It struck me how ridiculous it was that I was asking her to help Kristoph before she killed me, but this girl didn’t seem all bad. She definitely didn’t seem like the kind of crazy cruel that Gregor and Kravos showed off.
“Not much,” the girl said with a fatalistic shrug. “I sort of have the whole stealth archer thing going for me.”
“You and just about everyone else who’s played a game since Skyrim,” I muttered.
The girl giggled. Which was odd for a girl who was going for the whole “gravelly badass who didn’t give a fuck about the world” look. Then her face lit up as her eyes took a far off look that said she was looking through her menu. When she came back her hands glowed slightly.
“I played around with this ability when I started the game thinking it’d be useful. Fat lot of good it ended up doing me, but maybe it’ll help your friend.”
When she talked about whatever she was about to do her voice sounded almost normal. When it sounded almost normal there was something even more familiar pinging at the back of my mind.
Those thoughts were interrupted as Kristoph gurgled and used his free hand to reach for the hammer still strapped to his back. For all the good that hammer had done him against this girl so far.
She paused with her hands glowing and eyed me warily.
“Um, could you tell your friend to cool it? He’s not going to hurt me if he hits me with that thing, and he’ll interrupt the cast which means he doesn’t get any healing.”
And suddenly I knew where I'd heard her voice before. My eyes went wide.
“You’re that girl from the clearing. The one who saved the goblin and shot those assholes from Horizon Dawn who were trying to gank us!”
Her eyes went wide. She looked at me and then to Kristoph.
I followed her gaze to Kristoph, and it suddenly hit me exactly what’d happened to get a girl who’d been saving our asses the first time we met in a dark and scary forest to switch to killing us the second time we met in a dark and scary forest. Kristoph had been carrying weapons that glowed with the Horizon Dawn mojo.
“You thought we were them,” I said. “From a distance all you saw were a couple of noobs carrying that stupid Horizon Dawn Syndicate gear.”
“I didn’t get a good look at you the last time we met,” she said. “If I’d seen you and realized you were those guys…”
Kristoph gurgled some more. He obviously wasn’t doing so hot. And this time around it’s not like he even deserved it. I mean sure he’d been a little stupid grabbing some Horizon Dawn gear, but that didn’t rise to the level of taking an arrow to the neck in terms of karmic retribution.
“I think my friend is trying to tell me to shut the fuck up and let you heal him,” I said. “I mean I can’t be too sure, but…”
Kristoph nodded vigorously and then moaned as the nodding caused the arrow lodged in his neck to move around in a way that couldn’t be pleasant. The blood that shot out of what looked like a major artery that caused his health bar to tick down a good chunk seemed to back that up.
“Lose the hammer Kristoph,” I said. “I think this whole thing was a big mistake.”
Kristoph frowned, he wasn’t a man of many words with an arrow shoved through his neck which was actually kind of a blessing, but finally he rolled his eyes and pulled his hand away from the hammer.
I wasn’t sure how much of that business about Kristoph not being able to hurt the girl was the truth and how much of it was her bluffing to keep us from doing something stupid, but if she did have a healing spell and she really was out here looking for Horizon people to off then I was more inclined to trust her than I'd been moments ago.
I thought back to the combat in the town circle where Kristoph got in a hit on that Gregor asshole. Sure the hit had ultimately ended in Kristoph’s untimely demise, but still.
If he could hit a character who was obviously higher on the skill trees than us then it was possible he could also get a lucky hit in on this girl. He wouldn’t have a prayer of killing her, even with a sneak attack, but that would mean no healing magic to fix up the gaping wound in his neck.
The girl’s hands glowed and a white light surrounded her. It sputtered like a candle that was guttering and about to go out, but it was something.
The light transferred from the girl to Kristoph, but nothing seemed to happen. He was still knocked on his ass with an arrow in his neck, and he didn’t look too happy about it.
“What the fuck?” he croaked out in a whisper that sounded like he’d had a pack a day habit for a couple of decades that’d finally caught up with him.
“Huh. Well I guess that’s better than not being able to say anything at all,” the girl said.
“I don’t know about that,” I said. “Listen to him bitching around you all the time then tell me whether or not you think it’s a good thing he can talk again.”
I inspected the arrow still lodged in Kristoph’s neck. Then I did a closer inspection that brought up Kristoph’s character sheet and saw that his hit points had gone up. Sort of. They weren’t ticking down steadily towards an untimely death, at least.
“Yeah, definitely an improvement over how he was,” I said.
“I still have a fucking arrow stuck in my neck!” Kristoph croaked.
The words were probably meant to come out as a shout, but the arrow blocking Kristoph’s wind tunnel or damaging his voice box meant everything was still coming out as a rasping whisper, which wasn’t the greatest for being understood.
“He has a point,” I said. “Was that supposed to heal him?”
“It was,” the girl said with a sigh. “But it’s a low level healing spell. Like really low level. I took it when I thought I was going to be a healer, but the people I played with…”
She paused and sighed. Looked away.
“They all wanted to be a bunch of badass stealth players?” I asked. “And they figured a healer was going to cramp their stealthy style?”
I’d always liked healing classes back before I went on my vengeance quest for Diana, and I was very familiar with all the headaches and frustrations that came along with being the resident HP regen in a group.
“Yeah,” she said.
“Idiots,” I said. “No one ever appreciates a good healing class until they need someone to heal their ass, and then it’s always a bunch of griping about why you aren’t healing them fast enough.”
“Right?” the girl said, the frustration clear in her voice. “And it’s like if you don’t want to lose your hit points faster than someone can heal them maybe don’t stand so close to something that takes your fucking hit points away faster than I can replenish them. Ever think of that?”
“Yup,” I said. No one appreciates a good healer even when they need one. It’s nothing but bitching about how they need a heal now, and never mind the tank who isn’t standing directly in the fire you stupid fucking DPS!”
I took a couple of breaths. The girl smiled a little half smile at me. She knew the pain I felt. It was something only a fellow former healer could understand.
“Excuse me, but could the two of you cut the bullshit and help me the fuck out?” Kristoph rasped. “I’m getting sick and tired of getting stuck by people. First those Horizon Dawn assholes and now this bitch.”
The girl eyed him like she was thinking about finishing what she’d started with that arrow. I thought we might be on the verge of having more blood spilled, but she surprised me.
“You were having trouble with Horizon Dawn?” she asked. “Was it because of what I did with the goblin earlier?”
“I wish,” I snorted, then reached out and nudged Kristoph with my toe which earned me an annoyed grunt from my prone friend. “The guys recognized us, but Kristoph sort of mouthed off to some guy named Torian and dropped his PVP immunity without realizing what he was doing.”
The girl let out a low whistle. “Couple of noobs like you are going to have a bad time of it around here if Horizon Dawn has a problem with you. Especially if Torian is the one with the problem.”
“We’re not noobs,” I said. “And they’re going to pay for what they did.”
“Right. If I had a gold piece for every time I heard someone say that after Horizon Dawn fucked with them I’d be rich,” she said.
“My fucking neck!” Kristoph spat. “Can we do the info dump conversation fucking later please?”
“Right,” I said, leaning down and inspecting Kristoph’s wound. It looked bad, but… I wiped away some of the blood and let out a low whistle. This wasn’t good.
“What?” the girl asked.
“Um. It looks like that healing spell did heal things,” I said.
“That’s what it’s supposed to do,” the girl said. “I mean it’s low level, but you’re new to the game so I figured maybe it’d work on you or something since your stats aren’t that high and…”
I held up a hand to quiet her. For a wonder it worked.
“Yeah. The problem with that is it healed that arrow right into the middle of his neck. Like the skin is fused to the arrow now.”
“And it fucking hurts,” Kristoph rasped.
“I imagine it does,” I said. “How realistic is the pain anyway? Does it feel like you really have an arrow stuck in your neck?”
“I’ve never had an arrow in my neck so I can’t tell you how it stacks up to the real thing,” Kristoph snapped.
“Right,” I said. “Guess I deserved that.”
“It probably hurts like a motherfucker,” the girl said. “I’ve been stuck a couple of times and it’s never fun. Dying in this game is really freaky. Makes me not want to ever do it for real.”
“You and everyone else,” I said.
Kristoph stared at us with his eyes wide. Clearly he didn’t care for us continuing our chit chat when still had an arrow stuck in his neck. I sighed and rolled my eyes.
“It’s just a little arrow in your neck,” I said. “Honestly. You’re acting like it’s killing you or something.”
“Well it isn’t killing you,” I said. “Your HP has stabilized and the wound has healed, and that’s the problem because…”
Kristoph let out a wailing howl that was louder than the howl I heard from the goblin that came at us in the starter area.
I held the bit of the arrow I'd broken off behind Kristoph up so my friend could inspect it. I can’t imagine that felt good, but it sort of had to be done. This game was math underlying realism, with a heavy emphasis on the realism. And in the real world if you had something stuck in you then it needed to come out before the wound could be healed.
“Come on. You’re being a huge baby about this,” I said. “Besides. I had to distract you so you wouldn’t stop me. I know how much of a baby you are even putting alcohol on a cut.”
“I’m being a big baby about you ripping a fucking arrow out of my fucking neck?” Kristoph gargled. “There should be a fucking way to turn pain off!”
I blinked. “Kristoph, you’re a fucking genius!”
He glared at me.
“No, seriously,” I said. “I didn’t tell you about this earlier because it was funny watching you getting all pissy about smelling lizard shit, but there are sliders for your senses.”
“There are?” the girl said, sounding genuinely surprised.
“Think about adjusting the pain settings,” I told Kristoph.
His eyes went blank for a moment as he stared off into the nothing of a menu that was hovering over his face from his point of view but invisible to my point of view. Then he smiled and sighed in relief.
“Fuck that’s better,” he said, his voice still rattling from the blood being reintroduced to his trachea, then glared at me again. “Nice of you to tell me about that after you broke that arrow off.”
“Sorry,” I said, sheepish. “I forgot.”
Kristoph rolled his eyes and tried to say something, but it came out as a bubbling gurgle. Both from his mouth and from little air bubbles appearing around the arrow. Not good.
Apparently having part of the shaft snapped off in his neck was enough to reopen the healed bits. An inspect showed that his health was ticking down again, but I figured a quick heal would stabilize him to the point he’d start regaining hit points instead of staying flatlined in the HP department.
Kristoph didn’t say anything else, at least. Probably because he was busy trying not to drown on the blood making its way down his windpipe. I grimaced. That seemed like a hell of a way to go.
“If you hated that part then you’re going to really hate this,” I said.
I nodded to the girl. She nodded right back. She got what we were doing even if Kristoph wasn’t going to like it. I found myself drawn to this girl all over again. She was willing to do what had to be done and she was smart enough not to say anything that’d tip Kristohph off as to what we were about to do.
Which was a plan after my own heart. If I had a gold piece for every time I did something Kristoph didn’t like without telling him about it until we were in the middle of it I'd be rich.
“What are you…”
The gargle was cut off by another piercing shriek. A shriek that had its own fair share of gargling. The rest of the arrow came out of his neck with a spray of blood as I yanked it, and he started twitching. That definitely wasn’t what I was going for when I pulled that shaft out.
Also, that had to hurt like a motherfucker if he was shrieking like that with his pain bar turned down. Or maybe turning the pain bar down only made the pain dull faster. Honestly there’d be physical trials involved in figuring that out that I didn’t really want to undertake myself.
“That’s disgusting,” the girl said.
“Um, so are you going to do something about it?”
“Oh, right,” the girl said.
She knelt over Kristoph and did the whole flickering light thing again. The only problem being this time around the flicker guttered and died.
“Damn it,” she growled. “This is not happening!”
“Um, if you’re going to heal him then now would be a good time,” I said, watching Kristoph’s HP with growing alarm as it plummeted towards zero.
“I can’t!” she said. “I told you I went with the whole stealth archer thing. My mana regen isn’t that fast. I don’t have anything to heal him with yet!”
Okay. This was a new wrinkle I hadn’t anticipated. Also? Totally something I should’ve anticipated and thought of before I critically wounded my best friend.
“But that’s like a low level spell! How could you not have enough mana?”
“Stealth archer,” she said. “Not much use for healing spells or mana when you’re hiding in the shadows killing stuff with arrows and daggers.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter anymore anyway,” I said as Kristoph gasped one final time and then he was gone as his health bar reached zero.
“Shit,” the girl said. “I’m sorry about that.”
“Which part?” I asked. “The part where you shot an arrow through his neck or the part where you couldn’t heal him?”
The girl stood and pulled a dagger out. So much for the friendly conversation we’d been enjoying. “Y’know I’m about sick of the mouth on you.”
“Yeah, I get that a lot.”
That’s when something struck me. Well two things struck me. One quite literally and the other more figuratively. The literal thing that struck me was the knife that was suddenly embedded in my arm. The thing that struck me figuratively speaking was that apparently my PVP immunity had finally worn off, and I'd wasted it mouthing off to this girl while she killed my best friend.
“Huh,” I said. “That’s gonna hurt.”
Then the blinding pain hit me and I realized that yup, the pain simulation in this game was as top notch as I'd feared it would be.
I really should’ve turned down that pain sensitivity bar when I had the chance.
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!