“So are you going to help out here at all?” Kristoph asked through gritted teeth.
It was sort of understandable that he’d be gritting his teeth right about now. After all, he had his hands on either side of the haft to his massive axe looking for all the world like he was in the middle of one hellacious bench press.
Though it was my understanding that typically when someone was doing a bench press the weight was coming from metal plates on either side of the weight bar, and not from the weight of a very rabid looking wolf trying its best to chew its way through the bar to get at the soft and squishy human waiting on the other side.
Then again it’s not like I had much experience with the weight room in the real world to begin with. We had one at our school, but it was a place where Trent and his friends usually hung out so I tended to avoid it like it was the epicenter of a testosterone and steroids fueled zombie bro plague.
“It looks like you’ve got everything well in hand man,” I said.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” he asked. “Is this seriously your idea of having things well in hand?”
He used his rage to shove the wolf off him. The bad part was the thing took his hammer along with. He hopped to his feet in an impressive feat and stood there looking at the wolf using his hammer haft as a chew toy with a look that was somewhere between confused and bemused.
“Here,” I said, pulling my sword out of my inventory again. “This might help.”
I tossed it to him. He watched the thing arc through the air and then didn’t catch it. It landed point down in the forest floor, wobbling back and forth a bit and looking utterly useless.
“Was that supposed to help me or something?” he said.
“Well yeah. You said you needed a weapon and I tossed you a weapon,” I said. “Usually that’s the point where you take the weapon I’m offering you and use it to kill the nasty monster threatening you.”
“I don’t do swords,” Kristoph said.
He walked over to the wolf and straight up punched the thing on the top of the head. It let out a yelp of surprise and pulled away from the hammer, staring up at Kristoph like it was trying to figure out what the fuck was wrong with a beefy human that would engage it in hand to hand combat.
Not that it was hand to hand combat for long. No, Kristoph stomped on the hammer haft and it twirled in the air as it flew up and he grabbed it deftly, looking for all the world like a slightly less imposing Thor from those ancient Marvel movies that’d been so popular once upon a time.
“So I’m killing shit while you gather?” he said. “That’s how it’s gonna be?”
“That’s how it’s gonna be,” I said with a wink. “Good luck!”
Kristoph rolled his eyes, then turned and faced down the wolf with his hammer held at the ready. I knew he was loving this, for all that he was acting annoyed.
Satisfied that Kristoph was having his own brand of fun, I went back to gathering as many of the little yellow flowers as I could find. Which was easy because there were a lot of the fuckers all around us.
I made sure to keep a wary eye out for any additional wolves that might be lurking in the shadows. The last thing I wanted was to have a wolf come up and “take a bite out of my ass while I was presenting it picking flowers,” as Kristoph had so eloquently put it.
Kristoph swung his massive two-handed hammer at the wolf. The thing yelped and let out little cries of pain every time the hammer made contact. Yeah, it looked like Kristoph had things well in hand.
Though I did wince as I watched Kristoph beating the shit out of the unfortunate digital wolf. I wondered if the AI monsters were advanced enough that they could feel pain, then dismissed that as ridiculous. It would be needlessly cruel to do something like that to the poor AI creatures inhabiting this world.
“This! Is! What! You! Get! For! Sneaking! Up! On! Me! You! Furry! Bitch!” Kristoph shouted, punctuating every word with another hit.
I smiled and shook my head. It really was nice of that wolf to come along and take some of the heat off of me by giving Kristoph something to do.
There was a final yelp and then silence. I looked up to see Kristoph looking every inch the mighty warrior. He sucked in deep lungfuls of air as he leaned on his hammer and stared at me with a mixture of annoyance and bemusement. It didn’t help that he was covered in blood, though he wasn’t cursing up a blue storm so I assumed none of that blood was his blood.
“You really weren’t going to help out, were you?” he said, sounding scandalized.
“I feel like I was pretty up front with you about that from the beginning,” I said.
“So what, you like the idea of me becoming wolf kibble?” he asked.
“It looked like you had things well in hand,” I said, reaching down and tapping another cluster of the yellow flowers to add them to my inventory.
Kristoph grinned. “You bet your ass I did! That was fucking awesome!”
He turned to the dark forest around us. “You hear that wolf bitches? Any more of you want to play, Kristoph has what you want!”
He whirled his hammer around so it landed in his hand with a meaty smack and then twirled it by the haft a couple of times. His look as he stared out into the woods challenging any roving wolves to bring it was downright unhinged.
It was one of those moments when I was really glad Kristoph was on my side.
“Come on,” Kristoph said, looking at the path of arboreal destruction I’d left behind us while he was leaving his own path of lupine destruction. “You grabbed all the flowers here. Let’s move on to the next bunch.”
“Seriously?” I asked. “You’re not going to gripe about me gathering shit?”
“Why fight it? You get to pick your fucking flowers and I get to do real gaming instead of standing here watching you pick a bunch of fucking flowers,” Kristoph said. “Seems like a win for both of us!”
I hit Kristoph with a one fingered gesture that meant the same thing in the modern cyberpunk reality I found myself in as it had since time immemorial. Kristoph rolled his eyes and went back to swinging his hammer and glaring at the trees as though he was daring them to release more wolves at us. And the forest obliged now that he was making enough noise to draw every wolf in the forest.
I just hoped it didn’t draw those damned griefers down on us. I was still pretty confident that they weren’t coming at us for whatever reason, but that didn’t stop me from looking over my shoulder every couple of flowers I picked to make sure they weren’t coming at us for whatever reason.
Not that an early warning would’ve done much more than let me know the end was nigh.
We settled into a rhythm after that. A rhythm that didn’t involve nearly as much bitching from Kristoph, which I was thankful for. The monsters around here were mostly low level, and Kristoph was plenty good at drawing their attention with all his hammer whirling and shouting into the woods.
I happily walked along behind my murderous friend tapping flower after flower as I went on my own plant-based murder spree, though eventually the flowers and the roving wolves started to thin out as the forest got more sparse around us and things started to look a bit more civilized as the forest ended and cultivated fields began with a quaint but decent sized fantasy hamlet off in the distance.
Smoke curled from chimneys rising above the houses both closer in dotting the fields and in the larger town in the distance. The place looked like the sort of matte painting that would appear in an old 1980s movie when they still had to rely on practical effects instead of cutting and pasting from a CG library to set the mood.
I couldn’t wait to check it out.
“Those assholes will probably be in there,” Kristoph said. “At least they didn’t come after us in the forest.”
Suddenly I wasn’t as excited about checking the place out. If assholes like Gregor and Kravos were running the show here then the local in-game politics here were well and truly fucked. That brief respite killing wolves and gathering flowers and just playing the game had allowed me to forget all about those troubles for a little while.
“Yeah, I’m surprised they didn’t find us with the way you were swinging that hammer around and daring anything within shouting distance to attack us,” I said.
“Hey, if they came on me while I was in the zone they would’ve regretted it,” Kristoph said, reaching over his shoulder to tap his hammer. That love tap became an affectionate caress.
“I seriously doubt that,” I said. “But it’s nice you have dreams. Also, if you and your hammer need a moment alone in the woods I’m more than happy to give you a little bit of time.”
Kristoph hit me with the old one-fingered salute. I ignored it as I always did when we were flipping that salute back and forth.
“Hold on just a second,” I said. “Now that we’re taking a rest I want to have a look at what I’ve been gathering before we head into town to sell it.”
Kristoph rolled his eyes. “You’re seriously telling me you’ve been gathering that stuff and you don’t even know what it does? What if it’s worthless?”
I shrugged. “I was in the gather zone. Besides, it probably is worthless. We found it in a zone that featured wolves you could kill that helpfully threw themselves at you one at a time so you were never overwhelmed.”
I hit him with a significant look. A significant look, I might add, that was completely lost on him.
“You have that look like you’re trying to get one over on me and I don’t understand it,” Kristoph said.
“Let’s just say something tells me those player assholes wouldn’t have been as accommodating as some of those single file wolves if they happened upon us.”
“I resent that,” Kristoph said.
“As you should, O mighty warrior,” I said.
“Right. So you’re saying all that time you spent picking flowers was worthless,” Kristoph said. “That’s the takeaway I’m getting from this and no amount of you insulting my combat ability is going to distract me from that.”
“No more wasted than all the skill gains you got with that big honking hammer you love two-handing was wasted,” I replied. “Besides. These things are color coded yellow which seems to be stuff that’s around our level if the color on those wolves is anything to go on.”
Kristoph’s eyes narrowed. “Why do I get the feeling you’re making fun of me with that remark?”
“Probably because you resemble that remark my good man,” I said. “Now go polish your hammer some more while I do important work here. This shit might be worthless, but the stuff I find later in the game won’t be so I need to get some skill points while the getting is good.”
I turned back to my inventory, which was way bigger than I would’ve figured based on the tiny little bag hanging at my side. No doubt another nod to gameplay mechanics taking precedence over verisimilitude, but my storage space wasn’t limitless. I had ten inventory slots, and luckily the petals created stacks of thirty which meant even more carrying capacity.
In a crafting sense, at least.
Already I had about a hundred of the petals. I turned and looked at the path of gardening destruction I’d cut, though I couldn’t see too deep into the dark and semi-scary forest.
“Damn,” I breathed. “I guess I did get a little carried away with the whole gathering thing.”
“You think?” Kristoph asked. “You’re about to get an achievement for the longest walk from the starting area to the starting town.”
“I am?” I asked. “This game has achievements?”
“No idea,” Kristoph said. “But if you haven’t gotten one by now for “Lamest Obsession” then there probably aren’t.”
“You keep insulting me,” I said. “But you know you’re always singing a different tune when one of these plans comes together and we’re kicking ass thanks to me investing time in “lame obsessions” like picking flowers.”
“Says you,” Kristoph said. “I’m gonna go look for some more wolf heads to bash. You have fun smelling your flowers.”
“Whatever,” I muttered.
Kristoph wandered off into the forest shouting at the top of his lungs to try and attract some four legged furry friends to play with. Meanwhile I sat down and leaned against a tree.
It was time to look through the loot I’d grabbed. Sure it might not be shiny weapons, but with a little luck I’d be able to turn these skill points into shiny weapons with which to kick Horizon ass in the near future!
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!