I clutched at my arm and fell to my knees. The pain was so blinding that I couldn’t even keep my balance. I pulled up my inventory and looked for something, anything, I could use to heal or fight, I wasn’t sure which I was going for in my blind panic.
I had a weapon that’d be useless in a fight against this girl, and there was nothing else in my inventory but the mushrooms and flowers I'd been picking.
Sure some of those could be dangerous, and some of them probably had healing properties, but I figured they’d have to be refined and put into a potion or something if I wanted to take advantage of the healing properties. Not to mention if there was something deadly in my inventory I’d probably have to apply it to my sword and try to land a hit against this girl, not happening, or convince her to eat it which also seemed pretty low on the probability list in the middle of combat.
The healing properties of an unrefined item wouldn’t be enough to save me if this crazy girl decided to introduce me to the unpleasant sensation of in-game death, either. Motherfucker. I really needed to figure out how to turn some of these reagents into useful shit.
Though I was on the verge of losing everything I’d gathered. Including the Nhewb’s Blessing flowers that’d seemed so promising. If this chick killed me then it was light’s out for everything in my inventory, and that almost hurt more than the dagger embedded in my arm.
Almost, but not quite.
“Fuck that hurts!” I growled.
As I said it Kristoph’s body started to go through the whole “decomposition in a matter of seconds” animation that told me he’d released to the nearest convenient graveyard. One moment Kristoph was whole, albeit a whole corpse, then his skin started to peel off and fade away along with all his major organs until only a skeleton was left. Even that quickly disappeared as it turned to dust that blew away on an invisible wind, leaving behind a small treasure chest that only served to remind me that all of my worldly possessions in the game were about to be up for grabs too.
“He’s going to be pissed off that he lost his stuff,” I said. “We’ve never played a game where you could lose your shit like that before.”
I knew shock was setting in. That was the only rational explanation for how I could be talking about Kristoph’s stuff when there was a dagger rammed into my arm. Having a dagger rammed into my arm wasn’t the kind of thing that was a normal occurrence in my world, for all that a surprise shanking was an ever present possibility on our level of the arcology.
The girl was immediately on guard. Which struck me as odd considering I was pretty sure she was the one who’d put the dagger in my arm in the first place, yet she stared at the surrounding forest as though she expected an attack to come from there rather than from her hands.
Weird, but then again I wasn’t exactly firing on all cylinders right now.
"We’ll be able to get that stuff for your friend if we manage to survive this encounter," the girl said.
“We survive? I mean aren’t you going to survive a ganking you’re…”
She glared at me and put a finger to her lips, so I shut the fuck up.
It was around that time that I started to put two and two together. I'd assumed this girl was the one who'd stabbed me, but the way she was looking at the surrounding trees as though they held danger for both of us told a different story. She seemed genuinely worried that she was about to get it as well.
She pulled her bow up and stared at those trees with an intensity typically reserved for enthusiastic arborists and dendrophiliacs who were about to reenact their favorite scene from Evil Dead.
"I don't suppose you have any abilities that’d be useful in a fight?" she asked.
I opened my mouth, but she rode right over me.
"Of course you don't," she said. "What would I expect from a noob?”
I considered giving her a piece of my mind, but she let loose with an arrow that flew into the trees. That seemed a touch ridiculous. I wasn’t sure how likely it was that she’d hit anything considering all the trees in the way.
That turned out to be a pretty noobish thought, for all that I kept insisting I wasn’t a noob. That loosed arrow was followed very shortly by a cry as someone wearing a Horizon Dawn tabard crashed out of stealth into the clearing.
Right. She didn’t have to worry about hitting any of the trees if there was someone in stealth mode standing between the arrow and those trees.
"I knew it!" she said. "Those bastards are out to get us!"
"Fuck this hurts," I said, looking down at the dagger sticking out of my arm.
That dagger had the added bonus of rendering my arm pretty much useless. It was just sort of flopping there, and the only way I could move it was by cradling it in my good arm. Not that I'd be much use in a fight to begin with considering I hadn't leveled any combat skills, which was starting to feel like more and more of an issue considering the number of times I’d been utterly useless in combat since creating this character.
“Keia you bitch!" the figure at the other end of the clearing screamed. No doubt she was trying to be intimidating, but the intimidation factor was knocked down just a touch by the arrow sticking out of her stomach.
Keia glared at the girl and smiled a little half smile. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant little half smile either. No, it looked downright predatory.
"Well, well," she said. "Sereh? Is that you?"
I was more and more worried as Keia walked over to the girl rather than running away. Sure there was just the one girl there right now, but if there was one Horizon Dawn person hunting us then there could be more out there in the trees ready to move in for a little gang gank.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"It's okay," Keia said. "You can come over here. Sereh’s not going to hurt you."
“I’m not worried about her,” I said. “I’m worried about her friends who might be sneaking around out there moving in for the kill.”
I half expected that raiding party to appear and kill us painfully and slowly at any moment. I'd suddenly become very pain averse after my first experience with the sensation in the game.
Which reminded me. I needed to turn down that pain slider. So I thought of it and dialed it down as far as it would go. I knew from Kristoph’s example that it wouldn’t get rid of the pain entirely, but I figured it was a hell of a lot better than getting the full blast.
“Don’t worry about her friends,” Keia said. “Sereh likes to work alone, don’t you Sereh?”
She reached down and twisted the arrow in Sereh’s stomach. Which caused her to scream out in pain. I guess she hadn’t discovered the slider, and I had no intention of telling someone who’d lodged a dagger in my arm about that particular secret.
“Come on,” Keia said. “I’ll keep you safe from her.”
I bristled just a little at the thought that I needed anyone to keep me safe, but she had a point. So I stood and cradled my injured arm. The injury wasn’t as bad as when I’d had that slider turned up and it was more of a dull ache now, but I was still painfully aware of it.
Even knowing on an abstract level that I hadn't actually been stabbed with a dagger, that this was the game's representation of a dagger being lodged in my arm that was stimulating the pain centers of my brain, wasn't enough to completely separate me from the dulled world of hurt currently being visited on those pain centers.
“So. Sereh," Keia said, getting down on her knees in front of the girl I was fairly certain was the source of my current pain. "So nice to see you out here."
"I've already told the others where you are," the girl spat. “I might work alone, but Nilbog isn’t that far from here! You're going to regret this. You and your noob boyfriend here are going down! I owe both of you!”
Keia turned to me. Smiled a thin smile.
"You know each other?"
Now that I was close enough to get a good look, and incidentally now that my brain was sort of getting used to the pain, I realized that yes. I did know this girl.
“I’ve had a brief encounter with her,” I said. “Though the last time we met I was watching her getting carted off by goblin guards after she tried hitting me in a dark alley while I still had my PVP protection,” I said.
“You tried hitting someone with PVP protection in town?” Keia asked. “I thought you were smarter than that, Sereh.”
“He tricked me!” she spat.
"So you managed to break free?" I asked. "Nice trick, that, or did you have your buddies pay your way out?”
"Shut up noob,” she spat. "When we get our hands on you…"
"Oh I know all about what your guild leader wants to do when he gets his hands on me. Tell me, does he do that with all the young males who come through his territory, or am I special?"
"Fuck you," Sereh said.
"Oh my," I said trying my best to sound scandalized. I put my hand to my chest and fanned it just a little. "First your guild master, and now you want to get in on the action? Your guild really is a little naughty, aren't they?"
Her eyes bulged out. I'd scored a hit. Honestly if I'd met this girl under circumstances that didn’t involve her trying to kill me I might’ve been interested. Unfortunately that whole trying to kill me thing as part of a collaboration with Horizon knocked her down a couple of notches on the old hotness scale.
"So what were you really doing out here Sereh?" Keia asked. "Were you following me around, or are you following this one?"
"You can go fuck yourself too,” Sereh said.
Keia shook her head. "That's not very nice."
I was hit with another wave of blinding pain. Why was I getting hit with blinding pain? I turned that damn slider all the way down, but white stars danced in front of my vision. I looked down to see the dagger was gone from my arm, leaving a gaping bleeding hole where it’d been. Keia held it in her hand and gave it a little whirl.
Huh. I guess that answered the question of whether or not the lowered pain slider took all pain in the game down a notch or only meant that pain you experienced went down faster than it would normally. And I’d been totally right about the physical trial to figure that out sucking big time.
"Sorry about that," she said. “You’re not the only one who can pull the distraction play. Mind if I borrow your dagger?"
"Sure thing," I managed to choke out, wobbling just a little.
"Thanks so much," Keia said, looking down at the glowing Horizon Dawn Syndicate dagger with clear distaste.
She bent over Sereh who glared up at her.
"So I figure this can go one of two ways," Keia said. "You and I both know the pain simulation in this game has diminishing returns after awhile.”
She glanced at me, and the meaning was clear. I was to shut the fuck up about turning that slider down. Not that I’d had any intention of telling her and making this any easier on the bitch.
“I think we also both know those diminishing returns don't matter a damn bit if someone keeps creating new pain,” she said, which dovetailed nicely with my own experience. That’d also be a good way for someone to continue hurting someone who knew about the pain slider, for that matter. This girl really was a devious woman after my own heart. “So do you want me to make this quick? Or do you want me to make it hurt?"
Keia punctuated her words by stabbing Sereh in parts of her body that weren’t critical to her continuing consciousness. At least not in the game. If she’d been stabbed like that in the real world then it would’ve been lights out from the shock alone.
"What are you doing out here Sereh?" Keia asked. "Are you following me, or were you following the noobs? And if you were following the noobs around, what the hell did they do to you to warrant being followed?"
“Torian put a contract out on them," she said. "Finding you hanging out with them was icing on the cake considering the contract he has on you.”
Keia seemed to think about that for a moment.
"Thanks for being truthful," Keia said. "At least I'm pretty sure you were being truthful, so I’ll make this quick."
She plunged the dagger into Sereh's neck. The girl stared at us with pure hatred for the moment it took for her to expire, gurgling as she tried to say something and completely and utterly failed at getting it out.
The fact that her voicebox and throat and other major things she needed to talk had just been messily severed probably had a lot to do with that gurgling. Talk about realistic simulation!
Keia leaned down and wiped the bloody dagger off on the girl’s clothes. Then she grimaced and shook her head.
"This game makes player versus player combat a lot messier than I care for," she said.
“A lot more painful too,” I grunted, still pressing my hand on the hole in my arm.
I wondered if it would heal on its own, or if the injury was severe enough that I'd have to have someone fix it. Though with the way my day had been going it seemed more likely that I’d die and get a trip to the graveyard before either of those options happened.
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!