I stopped and stared at the entrance. The thing was fucking impressive.
I mean the wall itself around Nilbog wasn’t all that impressive. In fact it was downright sad. We’re talking it wouldn’t be all that difficult for an invading army of level one bunny rabbits to invade the place, let alone defending from some of the monsters that were no doubt lurking in the wilds around the town.
Not that it was likely any of those monsters would leave their pathing out in the wilds to come in here and start some trouble, but you never knew.
No, the amazing thing was how realistic everything looked and felt. I was getting an overwhelming feeling of awe all over again. Seeing the forest had been amazing, but seeing a living and breathing town with players and NPCs moving around and interacting and not being able to tell the difference between what I was seeing and the real world?
That was something else.
“Keep it moving,” a goblin guard said, waving his hand in a half-assed gesture and a bored tone that made it clear he could’ve used a more mentally stimulating job.
Huh. That was interesting. Those assholes in the forest had been talking like they owned this town, but the guard were still goblins? There was something to that, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what that something was.
It was something to file away for later, at least.
“I think he’s talking to us,” Kristoph said.
I started. I’d been busy looking around at the “small town” that really felt more like a small city now that we were getting a look up close. I took a deep breath.
“What are you doing?” Kristoph asked. “Didn’t you see the guard telling us to move it? We need to be moving. Not standing here smelling the roses.”
“We’re players and that guard is an NPC,” I said. “What he wants doesn’t matter. Now take a deep breath and tell me what you smell.”
Though I felt a little bad for saying that what the goblin NPC wanted didn’t matter. After that experience with the goblin in the forest I was having second thoughts about just how expendable some of the goblins in this area were. Especially if those Horizon assholes were treating those goblins like expendable assets.
Kristoph obliged, but he took a deep breath with his mouth rather than his nose. His eyes started watering and he stuck his tongue out and tried to paw at it with his hands.
“Oh fuck!” he shouted. “I can fucking taste it! What the fuck is that?”
“That’s the smell of a town in a fantasy world that doesn’t have modern sanitation,” I said. “At least it’s what the developers think a fantasy town that doesn’t have modern sanitation is supposed to smell like.”
That stink hit me with all the force of slamming into a brick wall. I'd almost rather slam into a brick wall than smell, and taste, the unpleasant reek of Nilbog.
“It smells like a barn on one of the agro levels we visited for a field trip back in elementary school,” Kristoph said. “Talk about a memory that’s never going to leave me.”
I nodded. Kristoph had a point. That happened from time to time. I took another deep breath, for all that it was a breath that had my eyes watering too.
“Don’t worry too much buddy,” I said, clapping him on the back. “You’ll get used to the smell soon enough.”
“Says you,” Kristoph said. “What if this doesn’t work the same in the game as it does in the real world? What if whatever it is that makes us forget a smell isn’t the same here? Maybe they got that wrong and we’re going to be stuck smelling shit for all of eternity.”
“You’re crazy man,” I said.
“Crazy because I have to smell this literal shitstorm in my nose,” Kristoph said.
I laughed as we walked on under the irritated watchful gaze of the guard we’d ignored. Not that I gave two fucks about the opinions of an NPC whose sole reason for existing was directing being a glorified in-game traffic cop.
And it wasn’t that I didn’t give a shit about what he thought because he was an NPC. I didn’t give a shit because of the whole glorified traffic cop thing. There was a subtle but important difference there.
Kristoph was right. The smell was going to be a problem if it didn’t fade over time. Heck, even if it did fade over time it was still a stink I could’ve done without. I wondered if there was a way to take care of that, and a window popped up that had all sorts of options for how sensitive I wanted my various senses to be.
Interestingly there was an option to turn down pain that seemed ominous, but for the moment I settled on turning down the scent just a touch. I had a sinking feeling that pain toggle was going to come in handy soon enough though.
I figured telling Kristoph about that little feature could wait, though. Letting him suffer for a little while seemed like a good joke.
Though the smell would’ve been quickly forgotten regardless. I was busy feeling like I’d just stepped out of my sepia-toned home in Kansas into the technicolor virtual reality wonderland surrounding us. Sure there were also legs sticking out from under my house which, in this tortured metaphor that’s about to be put out of its misery, was the stench of manure or whatever the fuck kind of shit that was.
Not that I cared. I was too busy staring at all the impressive shit all around me.
Everything looked so real. I’d expected some cue, some pixelation, some glitching here and there, anything to tip off my brain that I was in a video game, but there was none of that.
A cart pulled by a giant lizard creature that owed a little of its design to ancient lizardy dinosaur art back before paleontologists started discovering feather imprints in fossil beds rolled by in the distance. The thing trumpeted as it shook its head and snorted. Mud splatted as the cart kicked it up under the wagon spokes, and I could even hear wood creaking as it rolled along.
An even louder noise overhead drew my attention. A massive airship floated above us, though I couldn’t tell how the thing was floating up there. Magic of some sort, obviously, since there were no steampunk elements like massive propellers or a balloon holding it aloft.
I wanted to get on that thing and figure out how it worked. It looked massive flying low over the city. The thing looked to be made entirely of wood, and I had a brief image of standing on the prow of one of those beauties watching the game world laid out before me as I thrust my hands out and declared that I was the king of this world.
Now that would be living the life in this game! Even if I would be far from the king of this world considering that was probably just a convenient method of transport taking people between various towns across the world and not something that could be created, owned, and weaponized by players.
Still, a guy could dream.
“Damn,” Kristoph said.
“We’re not in Kansas anymore?” I asked.
“Kansas isn’t in Kansas anymore after the supercell outbreak of…”
“Yeah, whatever,” I said.
“I’m just saying,” Kristoph said. “But this place is amazing. Like I thought they did up the starting area to impress us, but it’s all like this!”
“Yup,” I said, taking in the sights and listening to the sounds and trying my best to ignore some of the interesting smells that were breaking through even though I’d turned that sense down just a touch.
I didn’t want to think about how bad it’d be if I hadn’t discovered that sensory slider.
NPCs moved all around us, and a good chunk of those NPCs weren’t human. No, they looked an awful lot like the goblin we’d saved in the forest, though technically it’d been that disembodied girl who’d done the saving. There was a wide variety of the half-sized green creatures walking around. Old. Young. Women. Men.
“This place is full of goblins,” Kristoph said.
“Yup,” I said. “How ‘bout that? Goblins in a goblin town. I bet you’d be surprised to find Japanese people when you visited Japan, too.”
“I would be surprised to find Japanese people in Japan considering how overrun it’s been by thirsty white dudes going on spirit quests to find their Japanese waifus,” Kristoph said.
I snorted at that. Which drew the attention of an old goblin woman carrying a basket full of withered apples. She glared at us like she didn’t care for me randomly laughing. Weird.
“What’s your problem lady?” Kristoph asked, which seemed a bit impolite.
“Dude, be nice to the lady,” I said.
Kristoph looked at me like I was an alien who’d come down from another world to announce they came in peace or something.
“Why should I be nice to the lady?” he asked. “She’s just an NPC.”
“Yeah, but that’s how those Horizon assholes are treating these goblins,” I said. “Do you want to be no better than some assfuck with the Horizon name plastered all over them?”
Kristoph was still looking at me like I was just a touch crazy, but he shook his head.
“Whatever,” he said, turning back to the goblin and smiling the sort of strained smile that was usually the domain of fathers who realized their daughter had just brought a tweaker home for dinner.
“Is there something wrong ma’am?” he asked, even nodding his head just a bit.
“Terrible crop this year with the frost and now all these newcomers making their way through town causing trouble,” she muttered loud enough to be heard.
“Better get used to the newcomers,” I said. “There’s gonna be a lot more here soon.”
If the old goblin had a problem with the newcomers who’d entered her world during early access then she was really going to have issues now that the game was open to anyone who could afford it.
Sure the game world was gigantic. Literally several times the size of earth which they could get away with since this was a video game with arbitrary physical constants and not a large rocky planet in the real world.
Still, the floodgates were open now and I would’ve bet good money I didn’t have that there was going to be an influx of players that stretched the limits of this world’s capacity, even if this area wasn’t going to get hit with everyone at once like with older MMO launches. Even the region based nature of how people were dumped into the game wasn’t going to affect things too much since the whole world was dotted with arcologies that each held more people than some of the largest metro areas had held back when humanity had still been building urban sprawl horizontally rather than vertically.
The goblin puckered her lips and glared at us, then walked off muttering about newcomers and how the last thing they needed was more strangers coming into the world.
“She’s going to have a bad time if she doesn’t like strangers,” Kristoph said. “Weird that she would be so against player characters though.”
“Seems like the early access people were assholes,” I said. “They’ve had a month to run around and cause trouble.”
“I guess you have a point there,” Kristoph said. “If they treat all the goblins like they did that poor little bastard running through the forest I can see why they’re a little pissy at the thought of more players.”
I thought about Rezzik running through the forest terrified for his life. “That also means they’ve had a month to get themselves established. Sounds like it’s not established in a good way if the locals are complaining like that.”
“Yup,” Kristoph said. “Here’s hoping we don’t get the stinkeye from every NPC we run into because all the early access people were assholes like those guys we ran into back in the forest.”
I decided to try something. I was so used to games where the NPCs walked past saying the same thing over and over again that I wanted to test Lotus. See if it really was everything they’d been promising. Sure everything looked impressive so far, but the game world would still get pretty boring if all the NPCs had the same old canned responses.
The last thing I needed was the Lotus equivalent of an NPC being a smug asshole about how often I visited the Cloud District.
Quite often Nazeem, thank you very much. I’m the thane and the Dragonborn and way richer than you could ever hope to be with an entourage of deadly followers, summoned demons, and armor literally made out of the terrifying flying lizard creatures that have you running in terror, and you want to get smug with me?
I took a deep breath. Emulating Skyrim was sort of a rite of passage for gamers these days since it still held up with mods and it was free, and I still had some issues with some of the old dialogue. Right now I needed to forget Nazeem and focus on this new NPC.
“Hey! Old woman!”
“Man,” Kristoph said.
I turned to him. “What?”
“Man. Her name is Dennis,” Kristoph said with a wiggle of his eyebrows.
I rolled my eyes. “Are you fucking serious?”
“I’m totally serious,” Kristoph said with another eyebrow wiggle. “And we can talk about the first part if you buy a girl a drink.”
I gave Kristoph a shove. The old goblin woman looked between us like we were crazy. I wanted to test her reactions, though, and this was a perfect opportunity.
So I stuck my tongue out at her. To my puerile delight her face screwed up in confusion. As though she was trying to decide whether or not I’d just insulted her. Maybe throwing out the raspberry wasn't a universal insult in this particular fantasy world.
“I don’t think she knows what you’re doing,” Kristoph said.
“I really hope this isn’t one of those settings where the creators came up with their own set of lame substitute swear words and rude gestures,” I said.
“Fucking idiots,” the old woman grumbled.
I grinned. Those words seemed to mean the same thing in the game world as they did in the real world, at least.
“So your first action in this game is to pick a bunch of flowers, and your second action is to stick your tongue out at some poor old goblin woman who can’t defend herself?” Kristoph asked.
“Well it’s better than how you were acting to her at first,” I said. “Why, did you have a better idea?”
Kristoph rolled his eyes, but I didn’t care. Besides, what was the point of a video game if I didn’t screw around with the game world just a little? Wasn’t the whole point to have fun?
My idea of fun was figuring out what made a game tick by pushing at the edges, and then thoroughly breaking it. I figured I was just getting started, even if insulting an old goblin woman was hardly an auspicious start.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s see what there is to see in some of the more well traveled parts of town. We might even visit the Cloud District equivalent.”
“Fucking Nazeem,” Kristoph muttered under his breath.
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!