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“Are you serious?” Kristoph asked.

I looked up from the base of a tree where I'd been digging into the dirt and grime with the trowel I’d bought special for this occasion. There were some mushrooms under here I needed to get at.

It’d been a surprise that I even knew there were mushrooms here. I shouldn’t have known they were there considering how well hidden they were, but I'd started looking around the forest and a faint glow appeared letting me know where there were herbs I could find.

That’d been a pleasant surprise, and I'd leveled up my Gathering:Herbs skill a couple of times in the time it took Kristoph to get out here.

“Took you long enough,” I said.

“Yeah, well you’ll excuse me if I wanted to make my way out of town nice and quiet like,” Kristoph said. “The last thing I needed was more of those Horizon Dawn assholes coming after me.”

He tapped his temple. “I’m thinking things through now. Like you.”

“Fair enough,” I said with a shrug. “Gave me plenty of time to do some gathering without having to listen to your constant bitching.”

“Yeah, well wait until you see what I got for you,” Kristoph said.

I pulled myself up and dusted the dirt off my fingers. This being a video game the dust crumbled off in an obvious animation and then it disappeared entirely.

Clearly the art department hadn’t put that much thought into the animation for dirt dusting. Not that I could blame them. It was a big game and I figured not everything could be hyper realistic. Gregor and his daggers came to mind.

“Okay, so what do you have for me?” I asked.

“Well that depends,” Kristoph said, pausing to look around as though he was afraid more assholes from Horizon Dawn were going to appear and give us trouble.

I sincerely hoped they didn’t. I didn’t have any plans to get rid of those assholes here in the forest, and I wasn’t about to flag myself for PVP so I could die alongside my friend. I also wasn’t sure how long my PVP immunity was going to last, for that matter.

I could be ticking down to an ignominious end. I should’ve logged out to look it up, but I’d been too preoccupied with digging up herbs.

“Honestly I don’t know if I want to give you this present now,” Kristoph said, the hint of an annoyed pout playing around the edge of his face.

“Come on man,” I said, standing and double checking my inventory to make sure the mushrooms I'd been digging for had made it in there. The inventory screen appeared as a translucent overlay of my world, and a moment later sure enough I saw the stack of mushrooms.

Though I'd have to wait just a little bit before I figured out what I could do with them. Right now I needed to manage Kristoph’s bruised ego.

Not that I could blame Kristoph for having a few bruises. I hadn’t asked him what it felt like to die in the game, and it wasn’t an experience I was eager to learn about firsthand. I could understand someone being pissed off after getting killed and hunted for a good chunk of the evening.

Not exactly a relaxing evening of gaming right there.

“Well let’s think about this,” Kristoph said. “I have this awesome new item for you, but so far you haven’t acted like it’s an item you’d want to use.”

“Will you just tell me what it is?” I asked. “Because if you don’t get around to telling me then I’m going to go look at that glowing thing in that small hill over there that I’m pretty sure is an ore vein of some sort.”

At least I hoped it was an ore vein. Picking plants was all well and good, but the real money and game breaking usually was in the armor and enchanting side of things. I was happy to level up my Gatherer skill with some herbs, maybe even make some money selling potions, but what I really wanted to get into was manufacturing weapons and armor and putting bonuses on them that made them irresistible to buyers on the auction house.

Maybe I’d even come up with something that would rival the junk Horizon was outfitting their people with. Maybe something better. I didn’t know if that was even possible, but a guy could dream.

“What are you talking about?” Kristoph asked. “I don’t see anything glowing through the trees.”

“Of course you don’t,” I said. “You didn’t bother to level up the skill so you don’t see anything.”

“Whatever man,” Kristoph said. “Take a look at this!”

He held his hand out and a sword materialized. A sword that glowed with red runes. A sword that had that disgusting stylized Horizon “H” from their video games on it.

I inspected it and saw that it was a very low level version of some of the more impressive stuff the other Horizon assholes had been wielding. Disgust and a strong desire to puke welled up in me as I looked at the thing.

“Ugh,” I said. “Where the hell did you get that?”

“Off that girl who tried to attack me,” Kristoph said. “Duh. And you’re supposed to be the brains of our operation.”

“I am the brains of our operation,” I said. “And there’s not a…”

I trailed off. The hurt look on Kristoph’s face told me it was going to be more trouble than it was worth to turn down this offer of a nice new sword. Even if it did have the Horizon logo and their taint all over it.

“Fine,” I said. “Hand it over and I promise I’ll use it.”

Once. Maybe. Honestly I felt dirty even thinking of having it in my inventory, but he’d had a bad enough day as it was. I’d toss the thing as soon as I could and try not to feel too disgusting for having a Horizon sword.

Kristoph’s face split into a wide grin. That grin lasted for the space of the breath it took for an arrow to appear through his neck. He dropped the sword and it fell to the ground with a dull thud rather than disappearing back into his inventory.

I wondered if that was because items were designed to fall like that if they were dropped in combat, or if items dropped after a player kicked the bucket stayed where they dropped. Or maybe it fell like that because he’d been in the process of giving it to me and the game knew by reading our minds that it was no longer his property which was freaky.

I’d heard of old school MMOs where people lost their stuff when they kicked the bucket, and those little treasure chests Gregor and Kravos left behind, not to mention the fact that Kristoph was able to loot the chick who’d been trying to kill him, made me think this game worked under similar rules.

Which meant it was probably a good thing I wasn’t carrying many valuables since it looked like there was a good chance I was about to bite the big one.

I looked around the forest for the source of the arrow. That it was from a player there was no doubt. There was something about that shot that seemed too precise, too refined, for a random monster. I felt like a monster wouldn’t hit in such a singularly deadly spot considering the stuff around the town should’ve been low enough that we could take it on.

Then again what did I know? It was entirely possible there were goblin fletchers somewhere out there in the game world. Given how pissed off those goblins seemed about how they were treated in town I could understand why some of them might get annoyed and go off the reservation, as it were, to inflict a little harm on their player character tormentors.

I pulled my sword just to be safe. My ordinary starter sword that didn’t have any impressive runes on it, but that was just fine by me as long as it also didn’t have the Horizon logo on it.

Not that I thought it was going to do me a damn bit of good. Not if the thing targeting my ass was able to shoot with the kind of accuracy that let whatever it was put an arrow through Kristoph’s throat.

“Drop it,” a decidedly feminine and non-goblin voice said. At least if there were goblins in this game that sounded like that I figured I wouldn’t mind being caught.

“Who are you?” I asked.

There was something familiar about that voice. Something that tickled the back of my mind. Whoever was talking was trying to sound gruff, but there was no hiding that it was a girl. Woman. What the fuck ever. If it was a player character then I imagined she would be a pretty good looking girl, at that, considering everyone tooling around in here looked like an idealized model version of themselves.

“None of your business,” she said. “Now drop the sword or I’m putting an arrow through your neck too.”

I grinned and leaned on my sword like it was a walking stick. It’s not like the thing was going to be good for anything else. Not in this fight. This chick had to be a player. That or the AI for the NPCs in this game was a hell of a lot better than anything I'd given Lotus credit for.

“You can forget about trying to kill me,” I said. “I’m still new so I’m not flagged for PVP.”

An arrow came streaking out of the trees. It hit the same invisible barrier that the girl from Horizon Dawn had run into, then bounced into the grass.

I shrugged and reached down to grab the arrow. As I did several more flew at me. One went over my head, but the followup was right on target on the top of my head. It tickled a little where it bounced off the invisible shield.

“Damn it,” I said. “Could you please stop doing that? It’s really annoying!”

The girl finally stepped out from the tree she’d been hiding behind, though I suspected there was probably a little bit of game assist going on with her hiding. Like there was no way this girl would be able to hide behind that tree, even if it was technically after dark in the game world.

“That’s an impressive trick,” I said. “Did you learn that all by yourself?”

“Shut up Horizon scum,” she said. “If you don’t shut your mouth then…”

“Um. Then what?” I asked. “You can’t hurt me, remember? We seem to be at an impasse here.”

“Clever,” she muttered. “Sending someone out here who can’t be PKed. Are you supposed to be scouting or something? How much did they pay you to come out here? I might not be able to hit you, but there are things walking these woods that would kill you without breaking a sweat or feeling any regret.”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” I said. “The bit about being a spy, I mean. The bit about monsters out there that can kill me is pretty clear.”

“That’s exactly the kind of thing someone working for Horizon would say,” she said.

My face grew serious. “Say I work for Horizon one more time and I’m going to pick up that fucking sword and do my best to kill you. I don’t give a fuck if it’s a monumentally bad idea.”

The girl stepped forward and the shadows that seemed to surround her lessened to the point that I could get a good look at her. The first thought that ran through my head was “damn.”

Lotus didn’t seem like the kind of game that stuck women in ridiculous chain mail or plate bikinis, but clearly the art department wasn’t above having armor sets that showed off some of the assets on the ladies playing the game.

The girl was beautiful. She had hair that shimmered somewhere between gold and blonde and seemed to have a slight glow to it. Her ears were slightly upturned to a point. She also looked just as pissed off as I felt.

“Talk fast,” she said, hefting her bow and arrow. “Because if you don’t do some pretty good convincing I’m going to kill you.”

“Um. Haven’t we already covered that I’m not flagged for PVP?” I asked.

I wasn’t sure how she did it, but one moment she was standing a good ten feet away from me with her bow drawn and the next she was right next to me with her hand wrapped around my arm. A hand that held my arm in a surprisingly strong grip, for a chick.

Then again I had to remind myself that this was all a game, and clearly she’d been doing some leveling with skills that affected her strength. That or I was such a monumentally low skilled noob that she had no trouble manhandling me like a cat batting around its frantically squeaking and squirming lunch.

“Do you think you have a monopoly on being clever or something?” she asked, still gravelly and growling like she was doing an impression of one of the many Batman actors who’d been doing impressions of Kevin Conroy over the past few decades. “Because I can grab you as long as I’m not trying to hurt you. I don’t think the game will care if I drag you deep enough in the forest while I wait for your PVP immunity to wear off. I have the time. Do you?”

“Fuck. It wears off?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes and muttered something about “fucking noobs,” and the disgust plain there told me she wasn’t lying more than any words might.

“Fuck,” I said.

“That’s right,” she said. “You’re gonna be in a world of hurt very soon noob. Even if I don’t feel like waiting for your PVP immunity to wear off I could just drag you to a monster den, toss you in, and listen to your screams.”

I stared into her deep purple eyes, again it seemed that she’d taken the opportunity to go for some colors that couldn’t be seen in nature when she created her character, and I thought I was in love.

Not only was she pretty, not only did she look good in that armor, but on top of that she’d figured out a way to kill me that circumvented the game’s mechanics. That was almost more of a turn on than the hotness.

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.

“I didn’t know the PVP flag was a time based thing,” I said, shaking my head to clear the little crush that’d just hit me.

“Afraid it totally is for now,” she said. “They’ll probably change that when they realize gamers are doing things like what I just described, but that’s not going to save your cute ass if they patch it out next week or next month.”

I was so surprised that she referred to me as cute that I couldn’t think of a response. There was a part of me that wondered if she was manipulating me because she saw the way I was looking at her, but her half smile said otherwise.

Or maybe that was wishful thinking on my part.

“Great,” I finally managed to choke out.

“So talk fast,” she said. “Or slow. I guess we have until your PVP immunity wears off, whenever that is. Or we have until I get bored with your lies and find a monster den to throw you in.”

A gurgling caught my attention and I turned to Kristoph who was staring at the two of us with his eyes bugging out. He had a hand over the arrow that was still lodged in his neck, and he didn’t look happy that I was in the middle of a meet cute while his hit points were rapidly ticking away on the game mechanics side of things even as his blood ran down his neck and messed up his armor on the art direction side of things.

“Oh, um, I appreciate that you’re about to torture me for information I don’t have and all, but do you maybe have something you could use to help my friend before you kill me?” I asked.

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A note from Daecrist

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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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