We tore through the forest. I crashed through the underbrush as twigs and branches whipped at me. There were a couple of times when a particularly nasty hit was enough to take my hit points down by a few notches, but I ignored the pain.
There were people pursuing us who’d do a lot more damage to my hit point counter. That was enough to make me push away any worry over minor hits.
Finally, after a run that felt like it’d gone on forever, but it couldn't have been more than a minute or so, I felt exhaustion creeping in. That damned stamina bar appeared, and it blinked yellow and then red.
"Seriously?" I gasped.
"Quiet," Keia said.
Shit. I hadn’t said that in party chat. Talk about a rookie fucking move.
"I'm not going to be able to go much longer," I said, my breath coming in gasps.
"What?" Keia hissed. "You've never been for a run before?"
"The game thinks I haven't," I said.
We came to a stop when my bar stopped flashing yellow and turned solid red as I discovered yet another area where the intersection of real life and game mechanics were working against me.
Keia looked around. Paused and cocked her head to the side as though she was listening for something.
"I think we're going to be okay," she said.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"I'm not sure about anything,” she said. “But I don’t hear them crashing through the forest in our direction and I know I’m the only one with any ability to hear them.”
"Point taken," I said.
I leaned against a tree to catch my breath and let the old stamina bar recuperate. I glanced down and saw another one of those bright red flowers with the orange streaks running through it. I reached down and tapped the thing. The flower popped into my inventory.
I paused to inspect my gathering skill. I was surprised to realize my mining skill had pretty much caught up with my other gathering skills during that trip to the mine. My overall gathering was getting close to 100.
I didn’t think anything special or groundbreaking happened when I hit that, but it was a nice round number. Triple digits seemed like something worth celebrating, at least.
"You look happy for someone who just almost got killed," Keia said.
"Well I should be happy," I said. "I'm almost to triple digits in my Gathering skill.”
"So you've seriously been spending all of your time on gathering and not on useful stuff like killing things?" Keia asked.
I shrugged. "My gathering skill was sure useful to you today," I said.
“You have a point," Keia said, though her tone said she didn't like that I had a point.
Though there was something else in my skill screen that caught my attention. A new tab that was glowing ever so slightly. Like it wanted to get my attention.
At least I was pretty sure it was new. It was under the Spellcraft skill, and that was certainly brand new to me as of about a half hour ago.
With a thought I pulled up my Spellcraft skills, and a shiver ran through me as I got a good look at my new notification that must’ve stayed buried in this window because I’d been running for my life this entire time.
You’ve unlocked Spellcraft:Combat!
Most rational people would only use gems to enchant stuff they use to kill people. You’ve decided to eliminate the middle man and kill people more directly with your gems!
Go forth and kill more people with weaponized Spellcrafting for bonuses to your offensive and defensive skills!
I grinned. So much for not having any offensive abilities. Sure the one that I had involved turning a gem into an explosive that could just as easily kill my ass as it could kill my enemies, but this was an interesting new wrinkle.
“Huh. How ‘bout that,” I muttered.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“The game just unlocked a skill line for using Spellcrafting directly in combat,” I said.
“Seriously?” she said. “Like that whole grenade thing you pulled paid off?”
“I mean it’s not like I’m going to be soloing any raid instances any time soon with this, but it’s a start. Besides, I’m stuck with you for now.”
“How do you figure?”
"I'm squishy and I have no way of fighting anything because I've been putting all my points into Gathering, as you pointed out. If I'm going to get out of here with all my shit I'm going to have to be stuck to your ass for a little while longer."
"Sounds like a good time," she said with a wink.
I stared at her with an open mouth. I hadn’t had many girls hitting on me in the real world, but that was mostly because I’d been so busy with my single-minded quest for vengeance for Diana that I hadn’t had all that much time for dating.
There was no missing what she was hinting at though. She reached out and grabbed my chin. Pulled my mouth closed.
"You have to watch yourself out here," she said. "There are a couple of parasitic flies you can catch with your mouth. They take over your brain and walk you off the nearest cliff or highest convenient geographical feature. A little surprise the devs put into the game that's not all that fun when you're the one being surprised."
"Right," I said. “Nice safety tip.”
"But you’re cute when you get all surprised like that," she said, holding her finger firmly in place over my lips so my mouth wouldn't fall open again.
"Now let's get going," she said. "It's a bit of a walk back into town from here, and there's going to be lots of dangerous shit along the way. Not to mention I have a feeling Horizon Dawn patrols are going to be a little more intense now than they would've been on a day when one of those patrols wasn’t blown up.”
"So basically what you're saying is you’re on an escort mission?" I asked. “And I’m the boring character you have to continually save because I’m constantly getting my ass in trouble by never walking at a pace that matches the player character’s walk or run speeds?”
She put a finger to her chin. Scratched it for a minute as she thought about it.
"I suppose you're right. The hot and maneuverable fighter is forced to escort the completely defenseless and loaded down freighter with a giant ass. Though this is far from a sci-fi game."
"And I object to you referring to my ass as huge, thank you very much," I said.
"Oh don't worry," she said with a twinkle in her eye. "It's a cute ass. Even if it is a loaded down ass.”
I decided to get a little bold. I figured that wasn't a sign so much as it was a signal fire being lit off from the top of a mountain where the whole kingdom could see it.
"Says the girl in leather armor so tight it's been distracting me all afternoon," I said with a wink of my own.
"Tell me about it," she said with a grin. "I've been watching you watching me all day. I wondered if you were going to sack up and say something."
I didn't have much to say to that, and decided I’d stop while I was ahead.
"Right," she said. "You're cute when you're flummoxed, but we should probably head back now. This place is going to be crawling with Horizon Dawn patrols in no time, and I don’t want to be around when they get here.”
We reached the edge of town without much incident. There were a couple of times when things got a little dodgy as obvious Horizon Dawn patrols came up on us, but it was easy enough to avoid those patrols since they were yelling loud enough that even I could hear them with no trouble.
Almost as though the people on those patrols weren’t too keen on getting caught by two players who’d already blown a big hole in the raid instance and blown up one of their patrols as a second act.
Still, I didn't sigh in relief and give up my constant search for people trying to kill or maim me until we stood at the edge of town where we were surrounded by the comforting sight of town guards who eyed us suspiciously with their clawed goblin hands on their weapons.
"You don't think Horizon Dawn got that Writ of Nobility between when we left and came back, do you?" I asked.
"I seriously doubt it," Keia said. "If they did then we'd be dead now. The guards would be doing a hell of a lot more than eyeing us suspiciously."
"Good to know," I said.
Though there was non-goblin trouble waiting for us. Someone from Horizon Dawn appeared as though by magic. I didn’t recognize the asshole, but the idiot certainly seemed to know us from the way he glared. Though if they were posting people at all the entrances in an effort to find me then it would make sense for them to pass around descriptions.
"The two of you aren't allowed in town," the guy, a weaselly looking prick who looked entirely too skinny for the plate armor he wore, said.
"Oh yeah?" I asked. "And what do you plan on doing to stop us?"
“Ballsy for someone with no useful combat abilities," Keia muttered in party chat.
“Hey, I have one combat ability,” I said.
“And if you use it you stand a good chance of taking out that goblin which is going to bring down a world of hurt,” she said.
"Whatever," I said. "It's not like he knows I can’t hurt him, or could do anything even if I did. Not without bringing down that world of hurt on his head, at least.”
“Take another step and you’re gonna regret it,” the guy said.
"Go ahead," I said, gesturing to the guards. "Make my day. I'd really like to see the town guards give you the whole can opener treatment and kick your ass."
The guy’s eyes fell on the goblin guards who were eyeing us with suspicion. He didn't draw his sword, but clearly he wanted to.
He spat at the ground instead. The ground couldn’t fight back the same way those goblin guards could.
"You're not going to last very long in there. Don’t take another step if you know what's good for you," the guy said.
"Thanks," I said. "But I'd prefer to be the judge of what is and isn't good for me."
Keia giggled. Meanwhile the skinny dude in the way too big armor was looking between the two of us and frowning.
"Come on," Keia said. "This guy isn't going to do anything to stop us."
“I will!” he said.
“Then do it,” I said, flipping the guy the bird.
It would appear the guy had decided he was going to make my day after all. His sword came out of his scabbard and he raised it. Swiped it through the air.
I was no idiot though. I might not have any points in traditional combat, but it didn’t take points in a traditional combat skill to know that when there was a weapon being swung at me it was time to hit the deck. So that's exactly what I did, throwing myself to the ground.
It hurt just a little, but getting a few scrapes from hitting the deck didn’t seem like such a big deal when the alternative was getting sliced open by a digital sword that looked frighteningly realistic when it was coming at me.
"Where did you… Hey!"
“Stop right there criminal scum!” one of the guards who’d been giving us the stink eye shouted.
I grinned as I came out of my roll. I’d just experimented with the system and learned something valuable. The guards were activated if somebody even took a swing at a person they felt didn’t deserve having that swing taken at them. It didn't take actual physical contact or engaging in combat, and it didn’t matter that I no longer had PVP immunity.
Which meant I could have even more fun with these jerks. Provided I had that fun in front of a guard. I still hadn’t tested whether or not an unprovoked attack within city limits summoned the guards when PVP immunity wasn’t involved, for example, and that wasn’t something I was all that interested in testing.
“Drop it,” one of the goblins barked.
Goblins surrounded the guy, weapons drawn. He dropped his sword, a Horizon sword, and held his hands up.
I reached down and grabbed that dropped sword. Inspected it. The thing had a nice little stamina enhancement spell infusion that I figured would be useful. I held the thing up and winked at the guy as it disappeared into my inventory.
"Hey!" the guy shouted. "You can't do that!"
"Watch me," I said, eliciting a giggle from Keia. "Consider it your fee for trying to kill me."
"He's stealing my stuff!" the guy shouted to the guards. "Aren't you going to do anything about that?"
"That sword was lying on the ground," one of the goblins said. “What do you say, Captain?"
“I agree,” a goblin with a rank insignia said with a grin. "It was on the ground, so I figure it’s fair game. Obviously you didn't want it or you wouldn't have dropped it out of your inventory!"
"But you told me to…"
At first I wondered if this was just a bit of incorrect programming on the part of the goblin guards. But the more I looked at the goblins, particularly at the smug and satisfied smiles on their faces, the more I realized there had to be more to it than that.
This wasn't a glitch. This was a group of goblin guards having a little bit of fun at this guy’s expense because they didn't like Horizon Dawn.
Given everything I’d heard about how Horizon Dawn treated the local goblin population I couldn't blame them for being pissed off to the point that they looked for a little revenge wherever they could get it.
"Thank you Captain," I said.
The goblin captain turned to me and gave a salute. "No problem. Thank you for giving us an excuse!"
I grinned and returned the salute. Meanwhile the Horizon Dawn guy stared in open mouthed astonishment. Clearly he hadn't expected the goblin NPCs to start retaliating against him. Well, that was what he got for associating with a bunch of dickheads like Horizon Dawn.
"You're not going to get away with this!” he shouted. "We're going to fix you good!”
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!