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"Oh," Keia said. "Sorry about that. Let me help you."

I shied away. She took another step towards me, and I scrambled back as I thought about the way she’d "helped" Kristoph. She got a bemused look as she took another step, her hands glowing with that fitful glow that hadn’t been quite enough to save Kristoph’s ass.

Finally she made an irritated noise in the back of her throat.

“What the hell’s the problem?” she asked.

“I’m thinking about how you helped Kristoph,” I said.

“Seriously?” she said, the glow disappearing from her hands. “I pulled the dagger out. It’s not like your wound is going to heal around it or anything.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling like an idiot. “I guess you do have a point there.”

“Of course I have a point,” she said. “Also I’m the only person in the area who has any healing ability so I’m your only hope unless you want to wait for that to heal on its own.”

I glanced down at the wound. It seemed a little smaller, but I wasn’t sure if that was wishful thinking on my part, or if the thing really was smaller.

“How long would it take for the wound to heal on its own?” I asked.

“Faster than in the real world, but way slower than you’d think for a video game,” Keia said.

“Shit,” I said. “I guess I’ll take my chances with the healing in that case.”

She rolled her eyes. “Thank you for being so magnanimous in letting me help you.”

“Well to be fair it’s sort of your fault the dagger is there in the first place,” I said as she leaned over me. That was good for another glare.

“How the hell is this my fault?” she asked.

“Well if you hadn’t stopped us then that Sereh chick wouldn’t have been able to catch up with us,” I said.

“Did you ever stop to think that she was stalking you this whole time, and if you’d gone deeper in the woods that would’ve meant no one around to hear you scream?”

“Not true,” I said.

“How the hell is that not true?” Keia said. “She was clearly following you. She even said I was a bonus.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure there are some woodland critters or something that would’ve heard our screams,” I said.

Keia blinked. Then a smile cracked her face. Then she was giggling, and very shortly after that both of us were laughing our asses off.

“You’ve got a point there, I guess,” she said. “Now come here. I’ll heal that thing.”

“Are you sure you have enough mana to do it this time?" I asked.

"Spoken like a man who doesn't want to get his ass healed," she said. “Besides, if I run out of mana I can always kiss it and make it better.”

I shivered at that. There was something intriguing about the thought of this hottie kissing my wound to make it better, for all that I was pretty sure she was joking around since kissing a gaping wound wasn’t my idea of a good time.

Maybe it was hers. I didn’t judge, much. Or maybe she was clumsily flirting. Which also felt odd. I thought guys were the ones who were supposed to be clumsy with their flirting while the ladies stood there and tolerated it.

"Uncle," I said. "But please. Do your worst."

"On it," she replied.

Her hands sparkled. Sparks danced up and down over the wound in my arm, and a moment later I felt better. My arm was still a little pink where the dagger landed, and there was a scabbed over spot there, but I could move it around without triggering what the game considered new stabs of pain which had the unfortunate side effect of hitting me with that pain at full blast.

"Thanks," I said.

"Don't mention it," she said. “I figure it's the least I owe you for killing your friend."

"Hello? Conlan?” Kristoph said.

I jumped. I looked around for Kristoph, but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. The treasure chest and some bones where he’d recently expired remained in place.

"What's wrong?" Keia asked, her eyes casting around for the threat that’d made me jump.

Of course she wasn’t going to see the threat. I’d been so caught up in the realism of all of this that I’d forgotten for a moment that we were in a video game where party chat was a thing and my friend’s disembodied voice could appear in my head.

"Sorry," I said. "Kristoph is sending me a private message, but it's a voice in my head and it’s a little freaky.”

"Oh yeah," Keia said. "That takes some getting used to."

"What's up?" I asked the air.

"I'm back in the graveyard just outside town and these assholes are chasing me again!" Kristoph said. "What about you? Did the crazy lady kill you?"

"Actually no,” I said. "She just saved me from some Horizon Dawn bitch. The same one who was hunting you earlier."

"Great," Kristoph said. "You have all the fucking luck. Meanwhile if you killed that bitch it means she’s going to respawn near town and come after my ass.”

"I don't know if I’d call it all the luck," I said, looking down at my arm that had been until recently so painfully occupied by cold steel. “And you know all the ladies can’t resist your ass.”

"Whatever," Kristoph said. "I assume from your tone and your smartass remarks that you're going to be spending your time making googly eyes at the new hotness out there and not coming back into town to save my ass?”

"Honestly I'm not sure what I'd be able to do to save your ass even if I could go in there and do some saving," I said. “My PVP immunity just wore off, so I’d only be an extra body for them to kill.”

“Damn. You're right," Kristoph said with a sigh.

I blinked. “Wait. You're not going to tell me I owe it to you to go out there and save you?"

"No," he replied. "I totally own that this is a situation I got myself in. I mean it is your fault that I was out there where the crazy lady shot me, but it's not entirely your fault that these assholes are chasing me. That was on me waving my two hander without thinking first.”

“A problem men have been having since the species began,” I said. “Though that’s optimistic on the two hander.”

“Fuck you,” Kristoph said with a laugh.

"So what are you going to do?" I asked.

“I think I'm going to lay low for a little bit. See if I can lose them, or at the very least introduce some of their lowbies to my two hander.”

“Be careful," I said.

"Oh, and can you please grab my stuff?" Kristoph asked.

I looked down at the treasure chest. "Sure thing buddy.”

"I knew I could count on you," Kristoph said. "Have fun out there playing kissy face."

"Shut up," I said.

"No, really man," Kristoph said, talking in a tone that had me picturing the lascivious grin and the raised eyebrows he was no doubt showing off on the other end of this line. "Think of all the perverts who've been doing that kind of stuff in games like this using text and creepy asterisks over the years in places like the Deeprun Tram. You'll be part of a brave new generation who’s the first to be able to do that kind of thing for real in a simulation that lets you see and feel everything man! Talk about hot!"

"It disturbs me how interested you are in my virtual…"

I stopped. Looked at Keia who was looking right back at me with a bemused expression. I didn't want to say anything out loud about my virtual sex life in front of her.

Not when the wide smile on her face made it pretty clear she already had a pretty good idea of what was going on on the other side of this conversation, for all that she couldn’t hear it. I blushed.

Damn. I must’ve been broadcasting to local without realizing it because I’d spoken to her after I opened the line to Kristoph. I was going to have to learn to be more careful about that stuff.

"I'll talk to you later man," I said.

"I bet you will," Kristoph said, making kissing noises as I waved to try and get the voice to go away.

"How do I make his voice stop?" I asked.

"Just think about muting your friend and the game will deliver," Keia said.

I did just that, and for a miracle Kristoph went silent.

"Dang," I said. "I'm going to have to try that more often."

"It works on everyone," Keia said. "Try it on me."

I thought about muting her. She started talking, her mouth was clearly moving, but nothing reached my ears. Then I decided to get more interesting and thought about her speaking in Spanish. It took a moment, but a dubbed voice started talking, and it was pretty fucking funny since the dub was a deep male voice which didn’t jive with the cute blonde elf in front of me moving her lips.

"What's so funny?" she asked as I switched her back to English and unmuted her with a thought.

"Switch me to Spanish," I said. "You're not going to believe what…"

I knew the moment she’d switched me because she started giggling.

"Pretty funny, right?" I asked.

"Yeah, it is," she said. "I didn't know they could do translations on the fly like that. That's the kind of thing that could make them more money than the video game!"

I shrugged. "Who's to say that's not the kind of thing they're working on releasing to make a shit load of money? Just because you have one shitload of money from a game doesn’t mean you can’t make other shitloads in different markets. Maybe they need people trying that stuff out before they can release it commercially or something. Like they’re experimenting on us and gathering data for the day they get to release it on the world and put translators out of a job or something.”

“That makes sense,” she said. “Poor translators.”

“Yeah, there’s gonna be an awful lot of dudes who don’t get to make their spirit quest to Japan to find a waifu teaching ESL anymore,” I said.

I’d known one guy who did that on our level. More power to him for getting out of the level, honestly.

Keia giggled again. “I knew of a guy like that. Always walked around with cat ears on. More power to him though. Whatever makes someone happy.”

“They must have one like that at every school,” I said.

“Yeah, guess so,” she said.

Huh. Well that was one bit of information at least. She went to school. Of course that could be anything from elementary school to college, though I thought there was a minimum age for using the Lotus hardware so she was probably at least sixteen unless she was running the risk of damage to her brain to play a game.

Honestly considering some of the brain damage I’d seen tweakers risking for the chance of riding a high that wouldn’t surprise me.

I glanced down at the ground beside her. Oddly the girl who’d just been so messily killed was still there. Weird.

"Why hasn't she done the whole creepy decomposing thing yet?" I asked.

Keia looked down and frowned. She leaned in closer, inspecting Sereh. Then she hissed. Pulled out the dagger that’d been lodged in me moments ago and lodged it into Sereh a couple of times. Which resulted in even more blood and guts exploding out. It was like something from the worst nightmares of those old stuffed shirts who thought pixelated blood was the beginning of the end of Western civilization back in the early ‘90s rather than the bullshit policies they were putting in place.

That repeated stabbing seemed a touch excessive, but I figured Keia knew what she was doing. Also, for some reason seeing her acting all bloodthirsty like this was kind of hot. Then again I got the feeling just about anything she did would strike me as kinda hot.

"Sorry about that," she said when she came up. I noted she’d left the dagger lodged in Sereh’s now rapidly decomposing body.

She flipped some of her hair back, and the hotness of that hair flip was only slightly ruined by the blood in her otherwise pristine golden light blonde hair. "Sometimes they get down to a sliver on the old HP bar but don't quite expire. Helps to help them along just a little when that happens. Especially since she was probably spying on us from her mostly dead body.”

"Got it," I said, wondering why it had to be so messy helping a character take a trip back to their respawn point. Not that I felt all that bad for the girl. Not after the trouble she’d caused me so far.

There was nothing but a little treasure chest where Sereh’s body had been. Which reminded me that I needed to grab Kristoph’s stuff. I leaned down and tapped the treasure chest and an inventory screen popped up showing me all the starter junk Kristoph had on him when he was forcibly moved to the graveyard outside Nilbog.

Kristoph didn't have much. Just the armor he’d gotten in the starting area. And there was a Horizon Dawn sword right next to his starter hammer. I guess the noob he killed hadn’t been carrying any of his preferred two-handed hammers.

I held the sword out and Keia let out a hiss.

“Why are you even holding that thing?” she asked.

“Because Kristoph is my best friend,” I said.

“Your best friend who nearly got you killed because of those things,” she said.

Keia glared at me, and she looked almost as murdery as I did when it came to Horizon shit. I worried there was a good chance holding this weapon for too long would result in me getting caught dead either by Keia, by someone else who hated Horizon, or by someone from Horizon Dawn who didn’t take too kindly to me using their gear given all the difficulties we’d been having with one another.

“Yeah,” I sighed. “And I fucking hate Horizon, but he also won this in PVP and he was so proud of himself for bringing us better weapons.”

Keia sighed as well. “Fine. Just put it in your inventory so I don’t have to see it.”

“Believe me, I don’t want to see it either,” I said as the thing dematerialized and whooshed down into my inventory.

I glanced at Keia. Her reaction to that sword, and to Sereh and Kristoph for that matter, had me thinking there might be a story about Horizon. I could use all the information I could gather about the bastards.

"You really hate them, don't you?" I asked. “Care to share why?”

If anything her glare deepened, and I really hoped my curiosity wasn’t about to get me ganked.

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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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