“So we’re heading into town then?” Kristoph asked.
“Seems like as good an idea as any,” I said.
“Yeah, until we run into those assholes and more of their friends,” Kristoph grumbled.
“But we’ll be in a town where presumably there’ll be guards to keep them from fucking with us too much,” I said.
“Oh yeah?” Kristoph asked. “So will a bunch of goblin guards save our asses? Because it seems to me that place is under new management.”
I frowned. He had a point. I hated that he had a point. This town might not be as helpful as I thought.
“Well at the very least we need to check the place out so we can figure out how to get to another town where these assholes aren’t running things,” I said. “We’ve got a whole world to explore, after all. There can’t be assholes everywhere.”
“Right,” Kristoph said, turning and heading for the edge of the clearing.
I almost followed him, then turned and eyed the wolf those assholes had tossed into the clearing. For some reason it’d persisted while those guys did that weird decomposing thing. I looked at the spot where they’d fallen and wondered how long it’d be before they got back to their bodies.
Assuming they came for their bodies instead of resurrecting at the graveyard, or however the hell that mechanic was done here in Lotus. Pretty much every game had a way for players to resurrect that didn’t involve a corpse run, and it had been awhile since they released…
“Dude,” Kristoph said. “What happened to the whole getting the fuck out of here plan?”
“Yeah, I think we should get out of here,” I said. “But first let’s check that wolf and see what it’s got on it.”
“Come on man,” Kristoph said. “Weren’t you the one who was just telling me we need to get the fuck out of here before those guys come back?”
I eyed the spot where they’d died again. Those chests were still there, but that Keia girl had talked like it wouldn’t take all that long to get to this Nilbog place. Which meant there’d been more than enough time for them to release and come back here.
And they hadn’t.
“I don’t think they’re coming back,” I said.
“Seriously?” Kristoph said. “You’re going to bet our lives on one of your hunches?”
“I mean it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve done something like that,” I said. “And my hunches usually turn out to be pretty good.”
“Y’know there’s gonna come a day when one of your hunches gets our asses killed,” Kristoph said.
“Maybe, but that day isn’t today,” I said.
“So far,” Kristoph countered.
Again he was doing that thing where he was making a point I really didn’t care for. Still, there was that hunch.
“Come on man,” Kristoph continued. “It’s not like a wolf is going to carry anything interesting. Trash mobs in starter zones never have anything good. They really don’t have anything that’s worth risking our lives over!”
“You never know,” I said. “Rare world drops are a thing in every MMO ever. Why would this one be any different?”
“Well hurry the fuck up if you’re going to do this,” Kristoph said. “I don’t want to be here when those assholes get back.”
“Me either,” I said. “But I think they’re so afraid of that Keia chick that they’re not coming back.”
“They’re certainly not hanging back because they’re afraid of us,” Kristoph said, eyeing the forest like he thought those assholes might step out of the trees at any moment.
“Yeah, well maybe the memory of that badass girl might keep them away for a little while longer,” I said.
I’m not sure why I suddenly wanted to hang around. It certainly wasn’t because I wanted to loot the corpse of a wolf in a starting zone that, when you got down to it, probably wasn’t worth the risk.
No, I think there was a part of me that wanted to show that I wasn’t afraid of those assholes. That I wasn’t going to let the thought of them returning be enough to send me running scared, for all that running scared was the reasonable course of action.
“Come on man,” Kristoph said.
I looked at the wolf and thought about the ancient videogame trope of random wolves and other creatures carrying money and diamonds and other things like that. Sure it wasn’t likely, but there was always the chance this low level wolf was carrying something good, so I figured we should check. It’s not like it’d take long.
Just long enough to prove I wasn’t afraid of those assholes.
Assuming I could even loot something killed by another player. That wasn’t always the case in an MMO. I kicked the wolf and it made a wet squelching noise as my toe made contact. Also? An inventory menu popped up showing me the items the wolf “carried.”
“Huh,” I said. “Brushing against dead things brings up their inventory screen. I guess that makes sense. Kinda gross, but it makes sense.”
“It’s a lot better than digging through wolf guts considering how realistic this is,” Kristoph said, then his frown deepened. “Or some of the nastier shit that’s no doubt lurking in this game.”
“Amen to that,” I said.
“Anything good from the starter zone gods to make it worth risking life and limb?”
I checked the inventory. As I looked at the inventory screen it went from transparent to more solid. When my eyes moved across an item a little tooltip popped up telling me what it was and providing vital statistics. Neat trick, that.
Unfortunately it was giving me the vital statistics for a wolf hide and some wolf guts. The text on the wolf guts were grey, so I figured that meant they were useless, but the text on the pelt was yellow. Yellow meant an item that was on par with our skill level. Which wasn’t much, but it was worth something.
I doubted it was worth that risk to life and limb that Kristoph was griping about, but it was something.
“Nothing too impressive here,” I said.
“Damn,” Kristoph said. “So much for getting an epic drop on our first hour in the game.”
“I’m not sure if random world epic loot drops are even a thing in this game,” I said. “I didn’t come across anything like that looking through the loot tables, at least.”
Kristoph rolled his eyes. “You would go through random loot tables for fun while avoiding the forums and spoilers.”
“Whatever,” I grunted. “There’s a nice wolf hide if you want it. That could be useful for crafting.”
“You take it,” Kristoph said. “You were always about the crafting and gathering. I’m more about hitting stuff over the head until it’s good and dead.”
“Whatever,” I said, adding the wolf pelt to my inventory. I figured it couldn’t hurt. At the very least I could sell it for some coin and we could split it once we got to this oh-so-originally named Nilbog place. “We could sell it for a little money or something.”
“Fuck. That’s gnarly,” Kristoph said.
“Gnarly? What are you talking about?”
I dropped the inventory window and looked down at the wolf. The sight that greeted me wasn’t pleasant. The smell that greeted me was even less pleasant. In fact one might go so far as to describe it as “gnarly.”
I had to tip my hat to the smell people. I figured some poor bastard working in that department had to go through some pretty shitty situations to make sure the smells in the game matched up with whatever terrible smell the devs pulled from real life to create these sensations currently running through my nose.
“That’s fucking disgusting,” I said.
The wolf’s skin had been removed. Literally. I stared down at the blood and guts of a skinned wolf. Apparently the devs had gone for a touch of realism when someone removed a wolf pelt from the wolf’s inventory. It was a disgusting touch of realism that made me want to puke.
That made another unpleasant thought occur to me.
“I really hope puking in this game doesn’t mean I lose the contents of my stomach in the real world,” I said.
“I doubt it,” Kristoph said. “That’d be a hell of a health risk. The last thing they want is people drowning in their own puke while they’re playing the game.”
“Yeah, just like they thought about the health risk of tossing someone into the game world a few hundred feet above the ground,” I said. “Or giving Horizon access to systems that let them literally fry people’s brains.”
“Huh. Good point,” Kristoph said.
“Eh, I’m not gonna worry about it,” I said. “If the game is smart enough to paralyze us while we’re in the game world then it should also be smart enough to keep us from drowning in our own puke.”
“That or you’ll be the first official fatality from Lotus,” Kristoph said. “Then I can go on a revenge quest against Lotus Systems.”
I frowned. The first official fatality from the Lotus hardware. There’d already been a few deaths. It’s just that Horizon wasn’t admitting responsibility and Lotus’s lawyers were doing legal jiu jitsu to push any and all responsibility onto Horizon for using their systems in an unsafe manner.
Bastards. If they didn’t make such great games I might hate them too.
“I think my continued consciousness is proof enough that I’m not currently drowning in my own vomit in the real world,” I said.
“You sure?” Kristoph asked. “You didn’t actually vomit in the game, y’know. Besides, what if you’re the first person to have their consciousness uploaded to a game because you died in the real world! Lotus is already tricking your brain into thinking this is real. Maybe it’s so good it’s tricking your brain into continuing to live as a ghost in the machine after your body kicked the bucket!”
Kristoph held his hands out in front of him and changed his voice so it sounded like he was telling a scary story around a campfire.
I flipped Kristoph the bird. “Very funny.”
“Right. Well the disembodied hottie’s voice said we need to go west and we’ll hit the town, so I vote we go west before these guys get back and kick our ass,” Kristoph said. He held a hand up when I opened my mouth to protest. “And I know you don’t think they’re coming back because they’re afraid of the disembodied hottie, but I’m getting all twitchy here waiting for them to plant an arrow in my ass so I’d prefer to get the hell out of here if you don’t mind.”
“Fine,” I said.
“You sure you don’t want to see what’s in those treasure boxes?”
My lips compressed to a thin line. I thought about the Horizon name all over that gear. I didn’t want to touch anything that had the Horizon name on it.
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I said. “They didn’t have anything we want to touch.”
“Whatever,” Kristoph said, rolling his eyes for good measure. “Fucking figures you’d go for the wolf guts and skip over the gear that’s actually maybe worth something.”
“Did you really just call that girl a hottie?” I asked, hoping to change the subject as we headed for the trees.
Kristoph shrugged. “I figure it’s a good chance she’s a hottie. At least in the game. Everyone in games like this is hot. Ideal self-image projection and all that crap. Besides, did you see any ugly options in character creation?”
I shook my head, though he did have a point about the character creation screen not offering the option to go ugly. “You’re ridiculous sometimes, you know it? That hottie could be a dude for all we know.”
“Yeah, but when you think about it does it really matter when we’re in a game world where everything happening seems way more realistic than anything you’re ever going to see in the real world?”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“What I’m talking about is if you’re in hyperreality then it doesn’t matter if the chick you’re getting with is a dude who lives on the other side of the world if the game world says she’s a chick and she feels like a chick and she…”
I held up a hand and blessedly Kristoph shut the fuck up. It was usually even money as to whether or not he actually shut the fuck up when I encouraged him to shut the fuck up.
“Gonna stop you right there,” I said.
Kristoph wiggled his eyebrows. “Oh yeah? Because when you think about it…”
Movement at the other end of the clearing drew my attention. More particularly it was movement from the general vicinity of those two assholes who’d been on the verge of killing our asses. We’d wasted too much fucking time standing around talking, and that movement was enough to shatter any confidence I had that they were staying away from this area.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get the hell out of this clearing.”
“Right with you man,” Kristoph said.
So we turned and made our way west, and presumably to the town those two assholes hailed from.
I wasn’t sure whether getting to that town was a good idea since it sounded like those assholes and whatever group they represented were in control there, but whatever. We needed to do something other than sitting around with our thumbs up our asses waiting for those guys to come back and grief us.
So into the dark and scary forest we went to see what there was to see.
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!