"Um, is it is supposed to be glowing like that?" Keia asked.
"I'm not sure," I said. "I've never done this before, but I don't think that's a good sign…"
"Maybe you should get rid of the gem,” Keia said. "I don't like the look of that glow!”
“And I don’t like how hot this is getting,” I said. "But where am I going to toss it that's not going to bring down the whole damn mine on us? We’re surrounded by solid rock that’s gonna become chunks of falling rock coming down on our heads if this blows!”
"Here!" she shouted, pointing to the exit on the opposite end of the room. "Follow me!"
She practically dragged me through a tunnel on the other side of the crafting room. I wasn't sure where the hell we were going, but I didn't like the idea of going into another enclosed tunnel where there was even more rock that could potentially fall down around us if there was an unfortunate magic reaction as a result of this spell infusion thing going wrong.
Then again I guess if it blew up in my hands I was going to the respawn point one way or another.
“I don’t think…”
"Here!" she said. "Toss it through there!"
A hole big enough to walk through appeared in front of us. I caught a glimpse of light. I had no idea where the hell I was, I’d gotten good and turned around in the maze that was the ring mine, but the gem was getting really hot. So hot that I could barely touch it even with the old pain slider turned down. So I chucked the thing towards the light and prayed that whatever fail state it was going for didn’t happen before it got to wherever Keia was having me throw the thing.
I thought I could almost hear the sound of metal clanking somewhere on the other side of that big hole, but wasn't sure why I would hear that considering so far the mine had been entirely uninhabited. Not to mention that hole looked a lot like daylight.
"Where did I just toss that potentially dangerous spell infused gem?” I asked.
"Don't worry," Keia said. "That's an overlook that looks down on the massive quarry that serves as the entrance to the Goblinsteel Mine raid instance. There's probably not anyone down there at this time of day.”
"Probably not?" I asked. "What if it hits someone and hurts them?"
"I don't think you have to worry about that," Keia said. "Whatever was happening with that thing, it obviously wasn't dangerous or it would’ve…”
A loud whump was followed by a shudder in the rock that felt like the next best thing to an earthquake, complete with dust falling down around us. Then there was a muted echo, presumably as the sound from the explosion hit the other side of the quarry and bounced back in an impressive piece of sound design, followed by shouting and screaming where there’d been clanking metal moments ago.
"You were saying?" I asked, glaring at Keia.
She shrugged and smiled. "Okay, so maybe it did do something dangerous, but it's like I keep telling you…"
"You don't know anything about crafting," I said.
"Exactly!" she said. "You're learning! So I don’t know why you’re getting mad at me.”
"We should at least have a look at what just happened," I said. "That blast sounded pretty big. If I can create explosions like that by infusing the wrong crystal I want to know.”
“Why?” she asked. “Gonna create gem grenades?”
“The thought had occurred to me,” I said. “But mostly if these things have the potential to blow up in my face then you bet your ass I want to know how far I have to run to get clear of the blast if I fuck up.”
She shrugged. "I suppose taking a quick look would be safe enough."
"Safe enough?" I asked.
"Well yeah,” she said. "It's not like anyone can hurt us all the way up here, right?"
"I'm trusting you on this considering you've played this game longer than me,” I said.
Keia stepped out into the light first, and I followed. I looked down, and was astonished at what I saw down below.
We were well above a vast quarry cut into the earth with sheer rock walls in a ring all around. To our right was a massive hole in the ground with the remains of what’d once been ornate doors twisted off of that hole and tossed to the side like they’d pissed off a giant who’d gone to town on them.
I would’ve liked to know the story on that one. I also totally didn’t want to meet whatever the hell was powerful enough to do that in a dark alley.
At the other end the ground sloped up until the sheer rock wall became less sheer on both sides as it reached an entrance that opened onto the forest beyond, but it was far enough away that I couldn’t make out anything happening over there.
Basically the whole place looked like the kind of place where they’d film an alien world for an old episode of Doctor Who nearly a century back.
Goblins and players alike milled about down below like angry ants whose nest had been disturbed, and most of them were scrambling to get away from a smaller smoldering crater that had presumably been created by my impromptu grenade I’d inadvertently created by infusing the wrong kind of elemental spell into the wrong kind of gem.
Though that crater was only smaller when compared to the rest of the mine. If the goblins were any scale to go by, and assuming they were the same size as the goblin guards in town or the goblin that’d nearly knocked me over during my first few minutes in the game, then the gem had created a hell of a hole down there.
Not the kind of hole I wanted to be in the middle of while it was being created. When the devs created a fail state they played for keeps!
"Damn," I whispered.
"Damn is right," Keia said. "Look. You managed to take out someone from Horizon Dawn with your magic grenade. You don’t have to feel bad after all!”
I felt a moment of satisfaction followed by a moment of panic. After all, if I’d managed to take out someone from Horizon Dawn then there was also a chance I could’ve taken out one of the goblins. I didn't want that. I was trying to help them, not blow them to smithereens. Not to mention that player would go to the nearest convenient graveyard, while that goblin’s code would go to the great garbage collector in the sky.
Only as I looked down I only saw a couple of rapidly decomposing bodies. No remains that would indicate an NPC had met their untimely end down there. Phew.
“You're sure the only people who’d be down there are Horizon Dawn people?" I asked. “Like I didn’t accidentally kill someone who was minding their own business trying to level or something?”
"I'm sure," she said. “The assholes make people pay to go into the instance, remember? They’re not running a raid right now, so if you killed someone down there they were in Horizon Dawn.”
"I'm still surprised those idiots aren't mining the place,” I said. Even from up here I could see the clear glow of goblinsteel ore all through the walls. “There’s a fortune hidden in these walls alone. If somebody were to set up an actual mass production mining and crafting operation…”
I shook my head. Not exploiting the resources here was a waste, but if my enemies were going to be idiots about using in game systems and waste a bunch of money that was literally sitting right under their noses I wasn't going to reveal to them how to make that money.
Not when I planned on stealing it out from under them if I could get away with it. Or maybe even killing them and taking over. Yeah, that was a much better plan.
An odd noise moved past my ear and interrupted my contemplation of all the new ways I might exact my vengeance on Horizon from within Lotus. The noise was like a tiny puff of wind. Not that there were many puffs of wind on our level of the arcology. Not unless the ventilation system was screwing up rather than merely not working at all which was its typical state.
"That's odd," I said.
A moment later the pain hit. It was very slight. Like when I stubbed my toe. Which is to say it was one of those minor pains that was very annoying because of how minor it was. Then the pain mitigation kicked in, but that didn’t stop me from worrying about the source of that pain.
"You’re bleeding," Keia said.
There was another noise. Something hit the rock wall behind us. I turned and looked, unblinking and not quite understanding, at an arrow shaft sticking out of the rock above my head.
"Shit!" Keia shouted.
She pulled me down just as another arrow shot through the space where my chest had been. I couldn't be sure that arrow would’ve killed me, but I was sure it wouldn't have been a pleasant experience getting it lodged in my person.
"I thought you said they couldn't reach us from down there!" I said.
“I said they probably couldn’t,” she said. “There’s a little wiggle room in that statement.”
"Great," I said. "We need to get the hell out of here. Now!"
"Totally agree with you.”
Arrows flew through the air making it impossible to stand. So we crawled back into the ring mine. Meanwhile arrows hit the rock and landed on us, but those arrows couldn't do any damage once they'd expended most of their kinetic energy by slamming against the rock wall instead of burying into our flesh.
"Remind me to never listen to you again when it comes to in game safety,” I said once we were safely back in the mine brushing away dust that’d rained down from arrows hitting the rock.
"Hey," she said. “That one wasn’t on me. They usually don’t watch those overlooks.”
“Yeah, well they also usually don’t see magic grenades flying out of those overlooks to kill their people,” I said.
Keia sighed. “I also didn’t think they’d be able to shoot us. Like before they couldn’t hit that high, but their archer types must’ve leveled their skills up a bit. The bastards.”
“I thought you hated archery?” I said.
“I do,” she said. “Which is probably why the Horizon Dawn people down there were able to skill up until they could hit us at that range and meanwhile I’m fucking around in the forest shooting people at close range and underestimating their ability because I haven’t been working on my distance shooting with a bunch of trees between me and any far off target.”
"We really need to find you a new class you can get into," I said. "Because being a half-assed stealth archer doesn’t suit you.”
"I always wanted to be a healer,” she said as we made our way back through the mine. "But those bastards didn't understand how useful it could be having a good healer in their group. They all wanted to be assassins, and Torian said I was harshing their buzz by being visible when they were trying to sneak around."
"How on earth did they manage to conquer the local raid dungeon if all they had were a bunch of stealth players?" I asked.
“The ringleaders, people like Torian and Gregor, were the stealth players. Though even that asshole Torian switched it up when he got bored and went to that sword and plate monstrosity. I wasn’t allowed to though, the fucker,” she said, spitting on the mine floor.
"You met Kravos, of course. That asshole was allowed to choose his path too and become their pet magic DPS. They have other players who did tank roles, but the inner circle, the ones who really run things in that Guild, are all a bunch of assholes who liked sneaking around and ganking people. Even Torian still does it from time to time for funsies, for all that he walks around in that plate armor all the time now for show.”
“So all the ringleaders in Horizon Dawn were stealth archers.”
“Well yeah. That’s what I was just saying.”
“And you’re a stealth archer…”
Keia stopped. Turned to stare at me. For a surprise it wasn’t a glare, though. No, she looked genuinely worried.
“Look, I didn’t know what they were going to do,” she said. “All I knew was this guy who had a thing for me in the real world said he could get me into the greatest new video game the world has ever seen and I wouldn’t have to pay. What would you do?”
I frowned. “I’d probably be a little conflicted since I’m not into the dudes, to be honest.”
I managed to keep from smiling for a couple of beats. Then we both devolved into giggles.
“Point is I left their stupid guild and started killing the bastards from the shadows after one run through the ring mines with them. You were the one who was just talking about trust.”
“Well now it’s your turn to trust me on this one.”
She had a point. Not to mention I was still suffering from a bit of “teenage dude under the influence of hormones really wants to believe the pretty eyes telling him a pleasing justification for her potentially sordid past.”
“Any group that plays exclusively stealth archers has to be a bunch of flavor of the month chasing assholes,” I said.
"You have no idea," she said, the tension draining out of her as the conversation shifted away from her time in Horizon Dawn. "You think it's bad when you're talking to them out in public. Now imagine the personal hell I had to go through listening to them constantly in guild chat. Always in my head, and always being pricks. When they weren’t hitting on me, which happened way more than I preferred.”
“What amount of hitting on you would you prefer?” I asked, wondering about the answer to that question for personal as well as business reasons.
She hit me with a look that said she knew exactly where I was going with that question.
“From them? Zero. From someone else? Well, I guess that depends on who the someone else is, doesn’t it? Now come on, we need to get out of here before one of their patrols traps us in this mine.”
I kept an eye out on our way back through the mine for any sign that new ore veins had popped up. We didn’t have the time to mine them, but knowing the respawn timer would be useful. Unfortunately I came up with a big fat zero.
"Any idea what the respawn timer is on these ore veins?” I asked.
“They’d go through and clear out the ring mines every week or so,” she said.
“I thought you said you left after the first run?” I asked.
“I did, but that didn’t stop me from figuring out their schedule from my hiding spot. I’m not sure if they cleared them weekly because that’s how long it took the ore to respawn, or because it took a week or so for enough goblins to sneak back into the mines to make it worth raiding.”
"Interesting," I said. "You know it's odd, too, when you think about it.”
“What’s odd?” she asked.
“Well in the real world steel is an alloy.”
“A what?” Keia asked.
“They take two different kinds of metal, iron and something else I think, and use it to make steel.”
“Okay, so is there a point to this?” she asked.
“The point is why would goblinsteel be something you could mine directly out of the ground? Steel doesn’t come out of the ground. It’s made.”
"You're asking me questions about real world metallurgy that you’re trying to apply to the in-game crafting system that I’ve admitted, multiple times, I don’t give a shit about?” Keia asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Point taken," I said. "Still…"
The words died on my lips as we reached the entrance. I’d stepped out into the light without thinking about what I was doing. I’d been so caught up in our conversation that I hadn't thought about what might be waiting for us at the mine entrance.
Sure there’d been the lone guard Keia distracted earlier, but while we’d been down in the mines I’d thrown an exploding gem that’d obviously stirred up the asshole hornet’s nest if all the Horizon Dawn people standing just outside the mine entrance with nasty pointy weapons drawn were anything to go on.
“Shit. Looks like we didn’t get out of there fast enough,” Keia muttered.
Gregor stood at the front of that group with a smug look of self-satisfaction. Sereh was close behind. The only person missing to make this a who’s who of Horizon Dawn people I really didn’t want to see was Torian, but the people in front of us right now were bad enough.
"Shit is right,” I said.
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!