Keia put her hands on her hips and shook her head. I knew I probably should keep my big mouth shut, but I couldn't help myself. I felt the overwhelming urge to taunt this asshole at least one more time, and so I did.
I’d never been very good at impulse control when it came to keeping my mouth shut around Horizon or one of their representatives. Especially when that representative was some snot nosed punk who took their money in exchange for early access.
"You know that's funny," I said. "I keep getting Horizon Dawn people telling me I'm going to regret doing things to them, and so far I’ve come out on top every time while you guys end up getting killed or carted off by the guards. So I don't really have much incentive to stop, now do I?"
Then I thought about it. Pulled his sword out and held it up. Moved it around a couple of times. "Especially when I get cool stuff like this every time you guys fuck up and get yourselves killed!"
The guy managed to take a couple of steps beyond the goblin guards before one of them tripped him and sent him clanking to the ground in a spectacular crash. Which made a god-awful racket that sounded exactly like a bunch of pots and pans being thrown down the stairs. Someone in the foley department clearly couldn't find a real suit of armor to throw down. That or someone got lazy working under crunch time deadlines.
"See what I mean?" I asked, flipping the guy the bird.
The guy tried to scramble to his feet, but it wasn’t happening what with a bunch of goblins gathered around him holding him down. It took a lot to keep him in one spot, but there were goblin guards to spare.
"Have fun bribing the guards," I said, sketching a mock salute at the guy. Which only seemed to anger him even more. Then he was whirled around and led on the world’s most ridiculous perp walk through town what with the way his walk was being perped by a goblin that barely came up past his waist.
"You know…" Keia started.
I sighed. "I know."
"You do?" she asked, smiling.
"This is the part where you tell me it's not a good idea to antagonize Horizon Dawn,” I said. "That my mouth is writing checks my ass can't cash and all that good stuff."
"Actually I was going to say that was pretty awesome the way to you taunted him into getting the guards pulled on him. It’s like you’re an expert tank, but for pissing people off instead of pulling monsters in a dungeon.”
"Really?" I said. I was genuinely surprised. It was rare to find someone who appreciated my antics while they were being dragged into them. "You weren’t, like, upset that I didn't take them down in single combat or something?"
"I think we both know there's not a chance you're going to be able to take anything but maybe a fluffy bunny rabbit down in single combat," she said. "And besides. You're using your brain to take these guys out. That's actually kind of cool."
"Well then," I said. "Just you wait, because I'm only getting started with these guys."
"Oh really?" she asked.
"Totally," I said. "These guys aren't going to know what hit them. I totally hate Horizon, and this is just getting started compared to some of the stuff I've done before."
Keia arched an eyebrow. "Really? And what kind of stuff have you done to Horizon before?"
I shut my mouth. I’d just gotten a little too close for comfort to a subject I didn't want to talk about with anyone other than Kristoph. Sure I was proud of the work I’d done screwing over Horizon, but at the same time I didn't exactly want it known who I was. Not when I was pretty sure Horizon was still good and pissed off at me for some of the stuff I’d done in their modules.
Not to mention with the way I'd been holding the idiot ball and dropping the ball left and right today I wasn't sure I wanted my past as the heroic Horizon provocateur associated with my bumbling performance on my first day in Lotus. Even though it was only my first day on a game where I'd been avoiding spoilers because who would've thought Horizon was in here, so I figured I could be forgiven a bit.
Besides, it's not like Horizon could hurt me now even if Keia did go blabbing. They'd already banned me from their modules, after all, and they couldn't exactly fry my brain remotely if I wasn't in one of those modules.
At least I didn't think they could zap my brain remotely if I wasn't in one of their modules. I hoped they couldn't do that, otherwise I’d be in serious trouble if they ever found out who I was.
There was a chance that revealing my identity could literally be life or death, was the point, and so I’d been reluctant to advertise to the world about my antics.
“You were about to tell me something,” Keia said, her eyes narrowing.
"It's nothing important," I said.
Keia surprised me by grabbing me and pulling me into a side alley. It's not like there was much I could do to stop her. As we’d already covered multiple times in our journey through my first day in this game world, she could pretty much do whatever the hell she wanted with me since she had all the combat abilities and I had nothing but some skill picking flowers and digging metal out of the ground.
Which was a thought that was surprisingly intriguing. I never thought I’d be into something like that, but…
But I needed to get this under control before this crazy girl killed me. It’d be a heck of a way to go, but that didn’t mean I was in any mood to go just yet. Not when I was still carrying so much good shit from the day’s misadventures.
"What's the big idea?" I asked.
"You looked like you were about to confess a big dark secret," she said. "And what better place to confess a big dark secret than in a dark alley?"
Okay then. That wasn't exactly what I’d been hoping to do with her in the dark alleyway, but at the same time it was about what I should’ve expected. The only problem was I had no intention of telling her anything.
“Um, party chat?”
“Party chat. The private chat where only we can hear each other. Seems like that'd be the perfect place to discuss dark secrets.”
That earned me an eye roll. It'd take more than pretty eyes rolling to get me to sing though.
"I already told you, I'm not…"
"Bullshit," she said, punching her fist into the wall next to my head. A punch that went straight through the stone wall. Which was an unwelcome reminder of how much strength she was packing. I looked at that fist wide eyed.
"Bullshit?" I asked, stalling for time and knowing, deep down, that it wasn’t going to do me a damn bit of good.
"Complete and total bullshit," she said, looking at her fist and blushing.
"Sorry about that," she said, withdrawing her fist from the wall. Surprisingly it wasn't even bloodied. Then again I wasn’t sure why I was surprised since this was a video game. "I have a little bit of a temper sometimes, and I let it get the best of me."
"I'll say!" I said. "You could’ve punched right through my head!"
"But I didn't," she said with a sweet smile. "Now you're going to tell me your big dark secret, and I'm not going to threaten you. You're going to do it because we're friends and friends tell each other stuff like that.”
"And I already told you my big dark secret about my time with Horizon, so it seems only fair that you tell me a little bit about yourself. You know. You show me yours, I show you mine? Ever played that game before?"
As a matter of fact that wasn't a game I’d ever played before, but I wouldn't mind playing with Keia. Though I wasn't going to go so far as to tell her that. Not when she was in a mood that had her punching through stone walls, at least.
I sighed. I had all those good intentions of keeping my big fucking mouth shut, and they were melting away because of a pair of pretty eyes. A pair of pretty eyes and a fist that could punch through my head like it was a ripe melon. The second part probably had as much to do with my sudden urge to sing like a canary as the pretty eyes.
"Fine," I said. "I suppose I do owe you one. Even if I did get you that ore you needed…"
"Not going to be able to use that one forever," she said. "Besides. You got a bunch of skill ups from that. We’re even on that as far as I'm concerned. Especially considering I’ve saved your ass multiple times on the way there and back.”
"Right," I said. “I was afraid you were going to say something like that."
Her sweet smile only got wider. It reminded me of a friendly Great White shark grinning at a seal just before that smile opened up just a little wider to reveal the sharp and pointy oblivion waiting beyond.
"Do you remember that video that got popular about a month back when they first announced Lotus? The Horizon module that supposedly got hacked and the Game Master who was killed?" I asked.
"Well duh,” she said. "That's been everywhere. I mean everyone's talking about it, even if the whole Lotus announcement kinda took some of its…”
Her eyes narrowed. She looked me up and down, and then her eyes returned to my face as she searched my eyes.
"You've been talking about how much you hate Horizon," she said.
"Yup," I said.
"Enough that you would… No. There’s been lots of people coming forward claiming to be that guy. Surely…"
"Guilty as charged," I said. "I sort of specialize in figuring out ways to break games, my dismal opening moves today being an unfortunate low point in that specialty, and I figured using that ability to fuck over Horizon, even in some small way, was the least I owed them for what they did to my sister."
"I… Don't believe you?"
I figured it was a good thing she was phrasing her statement in the form of a question. There was a part of her that believed me, even if she was having trouble admitting it.
"What if I could prove it?" I asked.
"Fine," she said. “Prove it.”
She crossed her arms under her breasts, and I tried not to look. I got the feeling she wasn’t trying to draw my attention to her chest, but then again with the way she was looking at me maybe she was trying to scramble my brain with the sexy.
Besides, I was a teenage guy. I was going to be distracted by the sexy no matter what.
I pulled up my heads up display. Looked for an option to get to my personal video library stored outside the game. Horizon modules had the ability to access that and so I figured…
An icon helpfully started to glow in the corner and I thought of activating it. It opened up my personal library which included all the videos I'd taken while I was doing the GM raid on that Horizon module with Kristoph.
"Everyone saw the livestream that was released from a third person point of view, right?" I asked.
"Well duh,” Keia said. "What's your point?"
"I'm willing to bet there's no one out there who has this view," I said.
I accessed the first person video I took from the encounter. A video I’d held back for myself just in case I ever needed to prove I was who I said I was and not one of the many Internet assholes who'd stepped forward to claim responsibility for my current magnum opus.
The livestream I’d sent out was all third person POV. The first person video was my insurance policy for proving I was who I said I was.
Not that I had any intention of letting the world know I was who I said I was. At least not until I was good and ready, but I figured I could trust Keia. Sort of. At the very least the two not necessarily mutually exclusive goals of impressing a pretty girl and not getting my head punched in like a ripe melon we're combining to make me more trusting.
Besides, if I was going to have to trust someone then I figured starting with the insanely hot elf chick who'd helped me escape from Horizon a couple of times already was a safer bet than most.
The video popped up and played over my shoulder. An interesting conceit. I was surprised they allowed something like that in the game. It was a tad immersion breaking to give players the ability to play videos from outside the game within the game, but then again it was probably just another of the many sacrifices between verisimilitude and crafting a game that a modern person with modern expectations could actually play.
My granddad had told me about the good old days of gaming where if they wanted to do anything in a game they practically had to memorize it. Or, even worse, they had to write down maps and stuff in a paper notebook like caveman savages or something.
And if he wanted to watch a video or listen to something while he was tooling around in old school WoW? He’d had to set up an ancient 3D TV, like we’re talking 3D in the sense of it being a massive heavy box and not being 3D capable, and plug in an ancient DVD player that only gave him access to whatever he had on DVD to play in the background beside his monitor instead of using picture-in-picture.
Savage and primitive. Granddad might’ve liked playing games like that, but it sounded like an old school nightmare to me.
"Damn," Keia said, her attention on the video as I reminisced about ancient gaming. "That really was you. You're the famous Horizon hunter!"
"None other than," I said with a small bow.
Keia took a step back. Looked at me with wide eyes. As though a sudden understanding had dawned on her, which had me nervous.
“Colin?” she asked.
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!