“Thank you for saving my life!” the goblin said.
Yeah, the goblin definitely seemed less terrified than he’d been. I probably should’ve been insulted that he didn’t see me and Kristoph as a threat, but it was hard to be insulted when that assessment was totally true.
We weren’t in danger of killing anything more threatening than a little bunny rabbit any time soon. Or maybe that starter wolf that’d been offed by Gregor and Kravos before we got a chance to kill it.
“Damn,” Kristoph said. “This little bugger is a hell of a lot more articulate than I would’ve figured.”
The goblin turned and regarded Kristoph with a look that was less than pleasant. It stopped short of spitting on the ground in emulation of Gregor, but it seemed to be pretty close to it. Like we’re talking it was probably a good thing the goblin’s only attacks seemed to be physical and not magical, because that was a look that could kill!
“Why should you be surprised that a goblin can talk?” the goblin asked, sounding even more insulted than he looked if that’s possible.
“Um, no reason,” Kristoph said. “At least no reason you’d understand.”
That last bit was muttered under his breath, and I could totally understand the sentiment. We didn’t have time to explain to the goblin that the world it lived in was actually an artificial construct put together by technologically advanced humans who wanted to get away from the dreariness of their day to day life to play in the goblin’s world.
I figured if we tried explaining it to the goblin the thing would think we were crazy at best, and have an existential crisis that its whole existence was to die at the hands of player characters in the name of them having fun at worst.
Assuming the AI NPCs in this game were even advanced enough for existential crises. Though from what I’d seen so far I’d believe it was possible. Either way this didn’t feel like the time to get into the long and storied history of human player characters killing goblins in video games and even in pen and paper games back before computers could push the kind of graphics that made killing digital goblins possible.
“So, um, do you want to tell us why those guys were chasing you?” I asked.
This time the goblin did spit. Then it walked over to where Gregor and Kravos had met their untimely ends at the hands of that strange disembodied voice who was so good with a bow and arrow. The only thing left of them were those two chests Keia our disembodied savior warned us off of.
Honestly I felt the same way. The last thing I wanted was to loot anything that had the Horizon name on it, for all that I didn’t have proof that the Horizon name on that loot had anything to do with the assholes who’d killed Diana.
Those thoughts left my mind as the goblin did something that had me trying very hard not to laugh. He pulled down his undersized trousers and let loose with a stream of piss that landed on the treasure chests indicating where the mighty Gregor and Kravos had fallen.
When the goblin was done it spit on both their resting places one more time for good measure, then walked back to me and Kristoph.
“Bastards moved in on our town about a month back,” the goblin said. “They took over the place and pushed any goblins who didn’t like it out. They’ve been slaughtering the ones who refuse to fall in line ever since. I was the latest they were going to off, been running messages between Nilbog and… Well never you mind. Point is they were trying to kill me when I ran into the two of you.”
The goblin laughed. It was a mirthless laugh.
“Honestly when I saw two more human travelers in front of me I figured I was dead,” he said, looking us up and down. “Never been more glad to be wrong about someone before in my life.”
A jumble of thoughts tumbled through my mind as the goblin talked about the current predicament of his people vis a vis the “travelers” who’d mysteriously appeared in his world a month back.
It would appear that not everyone stepping into the game world was being a model citizen to the NPCs who inhabited that world.
My first thought was to look at Kristoph who looked just as embarrassed as I felt. No doubt he was also thinking of all the times we’d indiscriminately slaughtered goblins similar to this one in various other games.
Sure those were older games that didn’t have the kind of AI that a game like Lotus Online boasted, but I still suddenly felt somewhere between awkward and bad about the wholesale digital slaughter of goblinkind I’d committed over my gaming career now that I was talking to the closest thing I was ever going to find to a real living and breathing goblin.
Damn. If this game could make me feel bad about things I’d done in previous games then it really was every bit as good as Lotus bragged over the years it took them to put the damn thing together.
The next thing I wondered was what the hell a bunch of humans were doing chasing goblins out of their territory. Shouldn’t they be getting quests from the goblins or something? It made no sense that they’d fuck with the local NPCs instead of pestering them for XP and loot.
“So the town nearby used to belong to the goblins?” I asked. “As in it doesn’t belong to them anymore?”
“Damn straight,” the goblin said. “Sure we had a human regent until a couple of months ago when the old one died off, he worked with the king and he was good for trade, but it’s been worse ever since these new pricks moved in and started acting like they own the place, which they don’t. They hunt us even though they don’t have the king’s writ. Not that they need a king’s writ since they have him holed up in the Goblinsteel Mines.”
The goblin looked dejected and I felt bad for the little guy. I was surprised that I was feeling such strong emotion for a thing that, at its heart, was code thrown together in a manner to make this thing seem like a living creature and not an actual living creature.
Then again, when I really thought about it, didn’t that describe all living creatures? The only difference between me and sufficiently advanced NPC AI was my coding took billions of years for nature to perfect and it used a base four coding system rather than taking decades for generations of introverted dudes with Mountain Dew addictions to perfect using a base two coding system.
“Um, so what happens now?” I asked. “I think we sort of have to head towards that town, and it sounds like you’re not exactly going to be wanted there. I mean it sounds like you’re wanted there since they were trying to get you, but I don’t think you want to be near them, right?”
I wondered if we’d be wanted there considering everything that’d just happened. If those assholes were running a dystopian society in the middle of the game then something told me they weren’t going to be happy to see a couple of smartass noobs who’d been there when they had their asses handed to them showing up in town to tell all their friends about the ass handing they’d just suffered.
“I must continue on to my people,” the goblin said. “I was supposed to warn them if the new travelers launched another raid from Nilbog, and I fear I may already be too late.”
“Um, right,” I said. I got the distinct feeling there was more going on here and I didn’t know enough about local game politics to know what I didn’t know.
I just hoped that all of this might make sense when we eventually got to this Nilbog place and got an idea of what the fuck was going on with local politics. I was definitely intrigued now that I knew it was a goblin village. And that it’d been taken over by damned dirty humans. Talk about an inversion of your typical fantasy tropes.
“One more thing before you go,” I said. “What’s Horizon Dawn?”
The goblin frowned and shivered, then did a little handwave in front of its chest that had all the hallmarks of some sort of ward against evil. It reminded me of a babysitter I’d had when I was very young who was constantly making the sign of the cross when one of the children she was babysitting stepped out of line.
Not that invoking a deity who’d probably never existed had ever done her much good against misbehaving kids. Busting out la chancla had always been way more effective.
“That’s the name of the group of travelers destroying my people,” the goblin said. “They have weapons that are beyond any I’ve seen before. It’s how they maintain their control. By killing my people with those weapons, and by keeping the other travelers dependent on them by selling those weapons to them.”
“Right,” I said. “That’s not helpful at all.”
The goblin turned to make for the forest and stopped. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two coins that flashed in the sunlight, but they weren’t gold. They were some sort of dull burnished metal that didn’t look quite like anything I’d ever seen.
The art department had clearly earned their quatloos when they put this texture together.
The goblin held the coins out to me and Kristoph. “Take these, please.”
I grabbed mine and looked it over. The coin had a goblin on the face instead of a human. Which made sense if we were in goblin lands. Though the goblin on the coin had one hell of a weird hairstyle that barely fit on the coin. We’re talking it looked like the kind of hair usually only found on ancient hair metal bands from the 1980s who could’ve singlehandedly caused the hole in the ozone layer that was such a problem back then with all the hairspray they used before their gigs.
“You don’t have to pay us for what we did,” I said. “We would’ve helped you regardless. Not that we were much help to begin with.”
“Speak for yourself,” Kristoph said, snatching his own coin out of the goblin’s hand. “I don’t have anything in this game.”
I shot my friend a sharp look. Kristoph shrugged but didn’t apologize. The man had a point. We didn’t have any money to our names, and time was wasting. Every moment we spent here was a moment those two player killer wannabe assholes could return, and I had a feeling our meeting wouldn’t be nearly as friendly the second time around with no mysterious arrow shooting chick to save our asses.
“Not money,” the goblin said. “Those are worthless since Horizon Dawn took over. They’re tokens. Markers. You’re friends of the goblins now. Carry those as a mark of that friendship, but don’t let Horizon Dawn see you with them.”
A notification flashed telling me my reputation with the Goblinsteel Syndicate had gone from Neutral to Friendly. It looked like I’d skipped a couple of levels of reputation grinding by saving the goblin. Or rather by being there when the goblin was saved and letting it use me as a climbing tree while someone else did the saving.
Whatever. I’d take it.
“Thank you,” I said, holding up the coin. “I’ll remember this.”
“Good, but remember to be careful who you show that to in Nilbog,” the goblin said. “My name is Rezzik. Perhaps we will meet again, if the spirits of fortune and prosperity will it.”
“Perhaps we will,” I said.
I put the coin into a bag at my side. The coin disappeared when it touched the bag, and I saw a little bag icon at the corner of my vision that hadn’t been there a moment ago blink as though it was trying to get my attention.
I focused on that icon and an inventory screen popped up. Because what else was I expecting when I concentrated on a bag icon? It showed the coin in my inventory along with some food and water, a short sword, and that was about it.
Hardly an auspicious start to our time in the game, but I couldn’t help but feel that we’d done a small good deed by helping out our new goblin friend.
The goblin, Rezzik, waved one final time and disappeared into the trees. I turned back to Kristoph and shrugged. It didn’t seem like there was much else to say. That’d been a weird experience, not at all the intro I’d expected, but it was something.
And now that Rezzik had made his exit it was time for us to get the hell out of here too. My back was itching between my shoulder blades in anticipation of the knife or arrow Gregor or Kravos would no doubt put there if they resurrected while we were still hanging around, and I had no intention of sticking around long enough for them to do that.
“Let’s get the hell out of here before those assholes come back and kill our asses,” I said.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Kristoph said, though he did pause to give one last longing look at the small treasure chests that contained those asshole’s worldly possessions.
“Not a chance,” I said. “We’ve wasted enough time, and I’m not taking any gear that has the Horizon name on it.”
“Hey, we don’t know that it’s the same Horizon,” Kristoph said.
I rolled my eyes. We didn’t know that it was the same Horizon, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d somehow followed us into Lotus.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s find some shit for you to kill with that hammer of yours and get the fuck away from these pricks.”
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!