Gregor stepped forward and eyed both of us. His nose was raised high with his arms behind his back. He reminded me of a classic scene from the scifi masterpiece Spaceballs where a stuck up officer gloated over catching a bunch of stunt doubles.
"Well, well, well…" Gregor said. "I have to say that when I got reports of an irregularity at one of the ring mines I figured it would be you two.”
“And I’m going to fucking kill you for what you did to me back there!” Sereh said.
Her hand moved up to her neck, and I got the feeling she was thinking about the way Keia had casually gutted her. That was the kind of thing that stayed with you. Especially if she hadn’t discovered her pain slider.
She was glaring at us like she wouldn’t mind using her own daggers to give as good as she got.
“Not right now, Sereh,” Gregor said, glaring at her in turn.
“Sorry,” she muttered, though that didn’t stop her from looking at the two of us and making a throat cutting motion where Gregor couldn’t see.
“And what was that magic spell you used to take a pot shot at some of our members?” Gregor asked. “That wasn't very sporting of you, but if you tell me what spell you used I can promise you I’ll make Sereh kill you quickly instead of doing all the things she’s been droning on about while we were looking for you.”
I wasn't about to tell them that what I’d used didn't have much to do with magic. At least not directly. Or not as they conceived of magic.
I was no conjurer of cheap tricks, to quote the pop culture ur wizard. No, my tricks were pretty expensive considering what those gems were probably worth now that I’d figured out how to turn them into enchantments.
"Seriously Gregor?" Keia asked. "Why don't you go back to sucking Torian's dick? You'll probably have a much better time with that than what I'm about to do to you. Because I promise when I spear you in the ass with my sword it's not going to feel nearly as great as when Torian gives it to you.”
Gregor’s eyes narrowed. "How dare you talk to us like that, you traitorous bitch!"
"Think about what happened to poor Torian and that arrow to his ass,” she said, pulling her sword out and, incidentally, showing off the flame glow I’d added to it.
Every eye in the group was immediately on her. More specifically on her sword, which was saying something considering she was looking pretty good as she stood there in her tight leather doing the whole “badass fighter chick” thing.
I guess staring at the sword made sense though. Hot chicks in tight leather distributing swordplay were a dime a dozen around these here parts. No doubt they knew Horizon weaponry, and this sword clearly wasn't Horizon weaponry.
"I'd give a great deal of gold to figure out how you managed to find a weapon with an enchantment like that," Gregor said barely above a whisper, eyeing it with greed clear in his eyes. “The good news is I'm going to have plenty of time to torture the both of you to get that information.”
"I know the pain goes down after a short amount of time," Sereh called out in a singsong voice. "So that just means we're going to have to keep creating new wounds so you keep getting fresh pain! How does that sound?"
Well shit. Maybe they did know a thing or two about the pain slider and how to keep making it hurt so bad even when someone had that mofo dialed down to a big fat zero.
“I’ll die before I let that happen," she said, holding her sword out in front of her like she was ready to make a last stand that resulted in her dying before they could capture her.
My mind raced. On the one hand dying would be preferable to being tortured for information. On the other hand if I died then all that goblinsteel ore I’d gathered would be lost. Along with the gems. And everything else I’d gathered since starting the game since this had been one long uninterrupted run of the game world crapping on me for all that it felt like watching Kristoph land in that massive Kristoph shaped hole had happened a lifetime ago.
The low level stuff I could get again, but something told me it wouldn’t be as easy to get those gems and goblinsteel in the future as it’d been this afternoon. After all, I’d had to go into a recently cleared high level mine on the outskirts of a high level raid dungeon with a highly skilled player along for the ride to even get at the gems in the first place.
The point being I really didn’t want to lose my shit now.
I needed to figure something out, and fast. We could run back into the ring mine, but that wouldn’t help for long. That was just prolonging the inevitable. There had to be something else.
The Horizon people stood grouped together. It was the kind of grouping that would be very bad if, say, this was a more modern game where things like artillery or high explosives were a thing. Or maybe a game where someone could create a reasonable simulation of high explosives that could take out a bunch of assholes who were obligingly standing clumped up.
I didn’t grin as that thought occurred to me hot on the heels of the realization that I’d just totally inadvertently invented an improvised high explosive device using the game’s crafting fail state.
I didn’t want to tip anyone off, but boy was the temptation there. I pulled up my inventory to see if there was another one of those blue elemental stones that didn't like having elemental fire infused.
Sure enough I found one. Nice and blue. When I looked at it the thing it said it was elemental water. Blowing up the last one must’ve been sufficient to figure out what element it worked with. Unimaginative what with the blue color and all, but then again this was a mass-produced game that was supposed to be understandable to a casual audience.
Which was a nice way of saying the system had to be idiot proof since nature’s capacity for building better idiots was always running far ahead of humanity’s capacity to build better systems.
So why not make things nice and simple and color coded? I was far from an idiot though. I planned on doing terrible things to the Spellcraft system. To abuse it and twist it to my will and come up with scenarios the devs had never imagined.
Starting with using this gem as an improvised hand grenade.
I pulled the blue water elemental gem out of my inventory and quietly infused it with my flame spell. The infusion was like second nature to me now. A good thing, too. It would’ve been really awkward if I had to navigate tooltips and a tutorial while I was trying to create a secret weapon without letting all the Horizon assholes know what I was doing.
Thankfully they were all focused on Keia. She was still talking smack and waving her sword around in front of Gregor who looked like he wasn't all that eager to get within striking distance of said sword, for all that he was boasting about all the nasty things he was going to do to us.
I felt the fire infuse into the elemental water stone. I kept the thing behind me and prayed none of them would notice the trees behind me lighting up with a second light source that wasn’t the sun filtering down through the trees into the clearing in front of the mine.
Not until that bright light was right in the middle of them ready to blow them to smithereens.
The gem got warmer and warmer. It pulsed and the heat was almost too intense for me to maintain my hold, but my timing had to be perfect. If I was off, if they realized what I was up to and had a chance to disperse…
Finally the heat got to be too much. I judged it was about the same as the pulsing had been when I was in the mine trying to find a way to get rid of the first gem I’d accidentally set to self-destruct. Either way I wasn’t going to be able to keep holding the damn thing. Not without burning my hand.
So I tossed it into the Horizon crowd. Right smack dab in the middle where it would do the most damage.
"Get down Keia!" I shouted.
Keia didn't react quite how I’d hoped. No, instead of hitting the deck she whipped her sword around. Right for Gregor’s neck. Right where he didn't have any nice leather armor protecting his smug ass with that smug smile that froze in place as the sword made contact.
Flames erupted from her sword and engulfed Gregor. Maybe she got a critical hit bonus because she'd hit old Gregor in a critically unprotected area. He had no one to blame but himself for letting someone get close enough to pull something like that off.
Though to be fair he probably thought he was safe. That no one would dare attack him when their attack would clearly be followed by everyone in his group doing their best to hack his attacker down for daring to take on their fearless leader. I’m sure he’d never imagined a scenario where someone would use a crafting fail state to eliminate all his friends before they could exact any pesky vengeance.
Not that he’d be around either way. Not with his body busy erupting in a column of flame as his head flew off, that mixture of surprise and smug confidence frozen in place. If there was any justice in the world the game would keep Gregor conscious in his flying head so he could see the full extent of his fuck up.
Some of Gregor’s toadies recoiled in horror at what Keia had done, while the other more pragmatic members of his merry band were in the process of pulling out their glowing Horizon Dawn Syndicate weapons in anticipation of getting some revenge.
I wasn't interested in any of them, though. Not the ones pulling out their weapons or the ones looking on in horror. No, the only one I was interested in was the lone Horizon Dawn member near the middle who leaned down and picked up the brightly glowing gem that’d landed in their midst with a plate armored hand that must’ve protected her from the heat.
She regarded the glowing gem curiously. Meanwhile I grabbed Keia, still standing there with her shoulders heaving as she stared down at Gregor, and pulled her back and down to the ground.
I pointed to the gem. Keia’s eyes went wide and she buried her face in the ground even as some of the Horizon people started towards us, laughing and talking about all the unpleasant things they were going to do to us even though we were submitting.
I held my breath. If that idiot holding my gem tossed it the thing wouldn’t do nearly as much damage. The girl didn't try to toss it though. No, she merely regarded it with curiosity, and that curious look was still on her face when the thing exploded in a massive concussion that created a crater and sent little bits of Horizon Dawn assholes flying everywhere.
“Submit that fuckers!” I shouted, knowing they’d hear me since none of them had released and left little chests full of whatever they were carrying behind.
A bit of gunk that’d until so recently been a member of Horizon Dawn splatted on my head. A wave of nausea and disgust washed over me as I wiped it off. Sure I knew it wasn't actually a bit of someone else's body, but it felt pretty close to the real thing.
Yet at the same time I was also impressed. After all, the devs had taken the time to figure out what it would look like when someone was blown to tiny little bits, even though it didn't seem like that was the kind of thing that would happen in a medieval game.
Or maybe it was. Maybe they'd worked out the whole Spellcraft thing and the explosion animation was meant for the poor bastards who came to an unfortunate end as a result of daring to mess with forces that shouldn’t be.
I stared at the damage I’d wrought. Damage that was rendered in stomach-churning detail.
The crater I’d created seemed just as big as the one that’d been created in the quarry. Maybe larger because this one had been created in the soft forest floor and not in solid rock.
"Damn," Keia breathed.
I looked at the disgusting blood and guts surrounding us. "That was the single most revolting thing I think I've ever seen happen in a video game, and I’ve been to a few starter zones in MMOs where people acted out their depraved fantasies with creepy asterisks in public chat where anyone can read their amateur erotica.”
"Clearly you haven't been playing this game long enough," she said. "Besides, it's not like they're going to be around for long."
Sure enough, the guts started to decompose, though it was a little different from the skeletons that appeared and turned to dust as the whole body decomposed. The bits and pieces slowly rotted away until there was nothing but little treasure chests in the forest floor where our wannabe attackers had been standing when they met their grisly but much deserved demise.
I was thankful the chests appeared where they’d been standing when they met their untimely end considering how far some of the Horizon Dawn bits had been flung in that explosion.
“That's one way to clean up the mess after you've killed someone," I said.
"Convenient, isn't it?" Keia asked.
I hit her with a sharp stare. She held her hands up. "Not that I know anything about disposing of a body in the real world."
I grinned and shook my head. I decided I really didn’t want to cross this girl if we ever met in the real world. Though she might be useful to have around while dodging tweakers and addicts on the way to school in the morning.
“Lots of chests,” Keia said.
“A shitload of loot,” I agreed.
I got the feeling it wouldn’t be long before those assholes were respawned and back here, so I started tapping treasure chests and emptying them as fast as I could go.
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!