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Gregor gave his daggers another little spin as he grinned at me. He seemed to be a fan of that animation.

I figured the dagger was supposed to twirl in his fingers before disappearing up his sleeve. This was a game, though, and apparently someone in the art department had been too lazy to finish the animation. That or they hadn't had time before the game went live.

Either way, it was one of those weird immersion breaking moments where one moment the dagger was there and the next it disappeared rather than disappearing up Gregor’s sleeves.

“Looks like we have ourselves some new scrubs here," a new guy said, stepping between Gregor and Kravos and shouldering them aside.

The fact that the asshole didn’t get a nasty look from either Gregor or Kravos had me on guard. The dude wore shiny plate of the variety that looked cool but would be utterly impractical in the real world what with all the fancy ornamentation and little fiddly bits hanging off of it that would only serve to get him caught on some enemy’s weapon in any sort of real combat.

Which was good for wondering whether or not all those fiddly bits and ornamentation actually got in the way in the real world considering they’d been included in a game based on realism like Lotus, or if the devs let gamers have their fancy armor without all the pain in the ass problems that would stem from that fancy armor if it was being used in the real world.

If ever there was a group that would bitch because they couldn’t have fancy ostentatious armor in a game that hewed more towards a realistic depiction of things it was gamers. No doubt Lotus was trying to avoid a PR flame war with that little bit of accommodation.

I got the unpleasant feeling we might be getting a firsthand demonstration of just how effective that plate was before all was said and done what with the way the dude was staring at us. It was not a pleasant stare. It was more the kind of stare I might’ve expected from someone who just stepped in some of the lizard shit lying around creating some of the lovely ambient smells that’d prompted me to turn smells way the fuck down.

"Just what we need. More of these lowbies coming into our town and ruining the good thing we had going for ourselves here,” he continued.

My eyes narrowed. Great. Some rich asshole with an overinflated sense of self-importance who didn’t like the common rabble interrupting his precious game experience.

"Hey, you guys don't have to be such assholes," Kristoph said. “It’s bad enough that these two were such giant dicks in the forest.”

The one in the plate mail, he had dark hair and blue eyes and I figured he probably would've been good-looking enough if you were into the dudes, laughed.

“What’s he talking about, meeting in the forest?” plate dude asked.

Suddenly Gregor and Kravos looked like they’d rather be anywhere but standing there in front of me and Kristoph. All the fight had gone out of them with just a few words from this asshole.

I wished I could’ve done that with these pricks in the forest earlier.

“It was nothing,” Gregor said.

“Yeah, not a big deal. We just ran into these two,” Kravos said, glaring at me and Kristoph and allowing a flame to dance across his fingers. He seemed to be just as fond of that little animation as Gregor was of the dagger animation, though the flame winking out of existence wasn’t nearly as distracting as a dagger winking out of existence since you expected that sort of thing with magic spells.

Looking between them I got the feeling these guys didn’t want the guy in the plate to know what’d happened out there in the forest. So I figured that was exactly what I was going to blurt out to make things interesting. If these fuckers wanted something then I was going to make it my mission in life to make sure they got the exact opposite.

“Like hell nothing happened out there,” I said. “You guys were chasing that poor goblin and then you got chased off by a girl.”

“The goblin got away?” plate dude said. “That’s interesting considering you told me it was taken care of.”

“It was taken care of,” Gregor muttered, looking away from plate dude.

“I don’t consider a goblin escaping to be taking care of the situation. And what’s this about a girl?” He arched an eyebrow as he turned to Gregor, and then to Kravos. “Neither of you mentioned a girl in your report.”

Kravos moved his hands to his nether regions. I figured he was remembering exactly what that girl had done to him out there. It made me wince to think about it, and I’d just witnessed it. I couldn’t imagine the kind of bad memories Kravos was reliving as he thought about that unfortunate shot to the nuts.

The one in plate sighed. “I suppose it was Keia causing trouble for us again?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what it was Torian,” Gregor said.

“You’re Torian?” I asked.

The guy in plate, Torian, turned back to me. His eyebrow rising was the only indication he wasn’t pleased about me interrupting their conversation, but I didn’t give too many fucks what this guy thought about anything I did.

He was acting like the leader of these assholes. If he was king asshole of a bunch of pricks walking around wearing the Horizon logo then he was no one I wanted to get buddy buddy with in the first place.

“Do you always talk to your betters like that, noob?” Torian asked.

“That girl had a message for you,” I said. “I’m guessing your boys here didn’t pass it on if they’re lying to you about everything else?”

The eyebrow moved higher. Meanwhile behind him Gregor and Kravos were alternating between staring at Torian like they genuinely feared him and glaring at me with the kind of look that would kill if there were eye based attacks in this game.

Hell, there might be magic attacks that sent lightning bolts shooting out of someone’s eyes in this game, but they obviously didn’t have them since I was still standing here alive and well despite those glares. Glares that meant I was doing something right if I was pissing them off so much.

“Really? A message? That is interesting,” he said, his eyes darting to his companions.

It was hilarious watching them go from glaring daggers at me to looking appropriately cowed and apologetic as this Torian prick turned to them.

“You need to shut the fuck up noob,” Gregor said.

“Fuck you,” Kristoph said. “No one talks to my friends like that!”

Gregor’s dagger was out again, and this time he waved it in front of Kristoph’s nose. Kristoph went cross eyed and pulled out his hammer, operating on autopilot more than anything.

There was something off about this. Something that had my scalp tingling. If Gregor wanted to kill Kristoph then why didn’t he do it? Why didn’t he ram that dagger home instead of waving it in front of Kristoph trying to provoke him?

For that matter why hadn’t they killed us in the forest when they had the chance? Why hadn’t they hunted us down after that Keia girl was gone?

It all came together just a second too late. I held my hand up to try and stop Kristoph, I cried out, but he’d already slammed his hammer down on the guy’s hand.

Gregor stared in astonishment for a moment, and then started screaming in pain. Which would've been pretty damn funny if Torian didn’t immediately pull out a massive sword.

Another couple of guys and a girl in the same tabard came running up. The dudes were dressed to the nines in some pretty ornate equipment that was lousy with the Horizon Dawn Syndicate label when I did a quick inspect, but the girl looked like she was in mostly new clothing the same as me and Kristoph. The dudes had obviously been in the game as part of the whole early access thing, but the chick looked like just as much of a Lotus noob as me and Kristoph.

Which meant these pricks were recruiting, and they were finding people willing to listen to their bullshit.

I wondered if Kristoph had actually done any damage with that hit, and a health bar obligingly appeared above Gregor’s head that showed he’d lost a few percentage points of health. It wasn’t much, but it was a hit.

That surprised me, for all that I should’ve expected something like this to be possible. Kristoph had managed to actually do some damage to the leather-clad assfuck. He was able to get that hit off despite the fact that he was a much lower skill level than Gregor. Apparently the people who designed Lotus took the whole "just like the real world" thing very seriously.

In any other massive online game a low-level person trying to attack a high-level person would’ve been approximated by some fancy math that amounted to no hit landing. It would’ve been accompanied by a nice little whooshing noise to show the lowbie the true depths of their noobish failure.

Lotus was different, though. The designers had put together a game backed by calculations so advanced, so true to what would happen in a real world situation, that it was possible for an inexperienced idiot with a starter two-handed warhammer to land a hit on an experienced player with far higher skills.

Which made sense. In the real world any seasoned warrior who was dumbass enough to close within point blank range of an idiot with a weapon was opening themselves to a world of potential hurt no matter how skilled they were with their own weapons.

Worry wormed through me as a strange red glow surrounded Kristoph. As though something about his avatar had changed. Kristoph’s face screwed up in confusion as his eyes darted back and forth. Like he was reading a notification that’d appeared in his personal heads up display.

"What does ‘Starter PVP Shields Lowered’ mean?" Kristoph asked. “This isn’t a fucking Star Trek game.”

"It means this, you noob asshat," Gregor said, his voice the equivalent of what I imagined an overweight neckbeard living in his parents’ basement would consider menacing.

I guess Gregor wasn’t as damaged as he’d been acting, or maybe he’d recovered fast, because he stabbed Kristoph in the gut with one of the daggers he’d been showing off. Then with a quick flourish he moved his hand up and lodged the other dagger in Kristoph’s throat. From there things got very messy very quickly.

I was horrified, but I had to give the game devs respect where respect was due. They’d managed to make the whole death thing seem very realistic. Like realistic to the point that I felt like bending over and losing my lunch as I watched a very realistic approximation of my best friend collapsing to the ground and bleeding out.

It’d been equal parts disgusting and disturbing watching Kravos getting that bloody shot to the nuts, but that was nothing compared to watching my friend bleeding out in the middle of the town circle. Blood oozed from his midsection where he’d been gutted, which would’ve been bad enough, but the blood spurting from his neck to mix with the otherwise clear water in the fountain was even worse.

A couple of NPC goblins who’d been walking up to the fountain to gather some water made disgusted noises and pulled away. Though I noted that they didn’t seem all that horrified. Merely inconvenienced. Like this sort of thing happened all the time.

“You asshole!” I shouted.

I pulled out my starter sword more on instinct than anything. What can I say? I was pissed off. These pricks walking around in Horizon gear had just killed my best friend. Kristoph was gurgling on the ground and his body twitched as he kicked and tried to do something, anything, to get a small measure of revenge on the prick who offed him.

I glared at Gregor, but the rational part of my brain managed to take over from the more revenge minded parts of my mind in time to stop me from doing something stupid. The asshole, for his part, turned to me and looked me up and down with a dismissive sneer.

“Go ahead noob,” he said. “Make my fucking day.”

He talked a big game, but he didn’t attack. No, he stood there with his daggers out making little feinting motions towards me, but none of them landed. Just like he’d threatened us in the forest without actually following through on those threats. Just like he’d waved his dagger under Kristoph’s nose without actually landing a hit until Kristoph attacked.

Because he couldn’t attack Kristoph unless Kristoph hit first. We were in a realistic game world, but already I’d seen several times over that it was a realistic game world that made concessions to the fact that it was a game.

Kristoph’s confused words just before he was gutted said it all. “Starter PVP Shields Lowered.” Which meant he’d had some sort of immunity to PVP before he made the mistake of hitting that guy with his hammer.

I hadn’t hit anyone to open myself up to combat. Which meant I still had whatever protection the devs gave lowbies who were new to the game. I wasn’t sure why that Keia chick wouldn’t tell us about something that important, but then again I should’ve known better than to expect advice from a disembodied voice in the forest who probably would’ve killed us if she could anyway.

I fought back a smile. I didn’t want to look like I was happy about these assholes killing Kristoph, but I also knew I could have some fun with this.

Maybe it was a mistake to piss off a player who was obviously higher skilled than me and could make things difficult for me whenever my own PVP immunity wore off, but at the same time I was starting to feel that familiar tingle running up the back of my scalp.

This was a system I could exploit, and I’d never met an exploitable game system I couldn’t resist exploiting.

Besides. If these motherfuckers were glorifying Horizon then I was going to do something about them. I wasn’t sure what the fuck I was going to do about them, but in the immediate future I saw myself pissing them off big time. It wouldn’t be as satisfying as killing the motherfuckers, but it would have to do.

“That’s a nice tabard you have there,” I said.

“What the fuck do you care about my tabard?” Gregor asked.

“Oh I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I was wondering what it tasted like when you got down on your knees and sucked Horizon’s corporate cock every night.”

A couple of players who’d gathered to see the show snickered. They quickly shut the fuck up when Gregor shot them dirty looks, but I’d scored a point with that jab. I noticed a few of the gigglers were even in Horizon Dawn tabards.

“You’d better shut the fuck up if you know what’s good for you,” Gregor said.

The dude’s daggers flashed, but again they didn’t make contact with yours truly. Meanwhile the asshole leader, Torian, crossed his arms and rolled his eyes like he’d seen something like this happen before and was willing to tolerate it even if he didn’t particularly care for it.

“I swear if you cross us again you little asshole I’m going to…”

Time to call their bluff.

“You’re going to what?” I asked.

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About the author

Daecrist

Bio: 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!

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