Yup. Definitely something that’d put me in danger.
It took a moment for me to realize what had happened there. I was about to answer as though she'd used my in game name. That was the problem with using a game handle that was so close to my real-world name. It meant when someone called me by my real name I didn't notice at first. Then I blinked a couple of times in surprise as the full magnitude of the words coming out of her mouth hit me like a ton of bricks.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it hit me like a ton of goblinsteel ore, to use a metaphor that was more in line with the game setting. Though it felt like I was already carrying the equivalent of a ton of goblinsteel ore.
My mind was wandering though. I needed to focus now more than ever. All of my fuckups so far today had been of the game life endangering variety that might've ended in me losing my inventory and getting a one way ticket to a respawn point, but this was the kind of danger that could fuck me over in the real world. The consequences could be potentially deadly in a more permanent fashion.
"Um… Who is this Colin guy?”
She cocked her head to the side and hit me with the bow-familiar look that said she was neither buying nor putting up with my bullshit. So much for playing ignorant.
Are you from Horizon or something?" I asked. I looked around, half worried that scifi looking Horizon shock troops were going to descend down into the alley and beat me up or something.
Which was a ridiculous thought. Not that Horizon might show up. The fact that they were financing guilds in this game was proof enough they were very actively interested in what happened in Lotus.
No, this was a fantasy setting. If any Horizon troops came along they’d be from Horizon Dawn or something, but I didn’t for a moment think it’d be any less painful if they were using magic spells and swords than if they were using plasma pulse rifles or something.
She shook her head. Blushed. Seemed to realize she'd just given something away too.
"I shouldn't have said that," she said. "I was just so surprised, and you mentioned a dead sister and hating Horizon and I didn't put two and two together until… But it's really you?"
"That really depends on who's asking," I said.
"Would you believe Kara?" she asked.
And then suddenly a whole lot of things about her story started to fall into place in my head and make sense. Not to mention I felt like a fucking idiot. People were assigned to their start based on region, so of course I should expect to see people I knew. It's just that there were so many people living in the arcology that I guess the thought of running into someone from my school seemed like finding a needle in a pile of millions of needles, for all that it made sense that people in school would have more free time to muck about in a game like this.
This was yet another example of me not working at my best because of how much finding fucking Horizon in this game had thrown me off. I really needed to get back on that game, or people were going to think of the “famous Horizon hunter” as a one hit wonder who got lucky.
Still, given how many people were in our local region, we’re talking millions in my arcology alone, I just hadn't thought to look for Kara in the hot elf chick who’d been my companion for the past few hours.
Though on some level it made sense. Now that I looked at her I could see that her in game persona resembled her out of the game. My resemblance to my real world self was probably part of the tip off for her once she put my story together with my hatred of Horizon.
Sure her features were a little different to fit the whole hot elf motif, but when I looked at her it was clearly Kara. Now that I knew what I was looking at, at least. It was kinda creepy how the game’s characterization could come so close and yet be so different. I also wondered if the difference would be more pronounced with someone who was, shall we say, a little farther from their idealized self image than Kara was.
"Damn," I breathed. "The hottest girl I know out of the game and the hottest girl I know in the game were the same girl?”
She giggled. "Thanks for the compliment. You're not so bad yourself.”
I blushed as I realized what I'd just admitted in my moment of surprise, but at the same time she seemed to enjoy the compliment so I figured why ruin the moment by doing something stupid like apologizing? Considering all the adventures we'd had today, not to mention all the flirting we'd been doing while having those adventures, it didn't seem like the kind of thing I should have to apologize for anyway.
Then another disturbing development that naturally followed from Keia being Kara occurred to me. If she played with Horizon Dawn to start then…
“Wait, so does that mean that Torian…”
“Is Trent,” she said, spitting on the grimy alley ground for emphasis. “The prick.”
"Tell me about it," she said. "They're such jokes too. I can't stand it. Torian was always going on about how I owed him or something for introducing me to the slimy Horizon fixer who got me into the game early. I mean yeah, I kind of figured the reason he was asking me to join him was because he had the hots for me, but I didn't expect him to constantly try to get me to test out how realistic some of the stuff in this game can be."
She blushed, and her normally happy face turned down into a glower. I had a pretty good idea of exactly what kinds of things Torian had been interested in testing out. The kind of things Kristoph had been mentioning as well, much to my annoyance.
“I can’t believe Torian is Trent,” I said.
"None other than," Keia said. "I'm surprised you didn't recognize his assholeishness oozing out of his character."
"I should’ve," I said.
Though to be honest my disbelief had less to do with the fact that Trent was in the game, which I already knew, and more to do with disbelief at my luck. I hated Trent. I hated Horizon. Trent was in this brave new game world and he was working for Horizon. Which meant that my hatred of Trent and my hatred of Horizon had now become two hobbies that dovetailed quite nicely, thank you very much.
“I can’t believe you’re you,” she said. “I mean you’re famous. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised with the way you kicked their asses without raising a sword. I thought you were crazy for not getting fighting abilities but…”
“Honestly? I’ve sort of been winging it since I got here,” I said. “And I haven’t been doing a very good job of it flailing around. I’d like to act like some badass mastermind, but I haven’t had any idea what I’m doing since logging into this game. I wasn’t expecting to find Horizon here, and it’s kinda thrown me off my usual game.”
“So you have no idea what you’re doing?” she asked.
“You were just making all that up when you blew them up with that gem?” she asked. “When you used those goblin NPCs to mug one of their guards?”
“Unfortunately,” I said. “Though I guess it was fortunately from our point of view considering they would’ve totally…”
Then she really surprised me by leaning forward and pressing her lips against mine. Which was a lot nicer and a lot more fun than when she’d been pressing her fist against the wall with enough force to turn brick into rubble.
Well then. I’d been thinking we might have a long drawn out courtship in the game. Maybe a little bit of flirting as we planned how we were going to right the wrongs from Horizon Dawn calling the shots around here. Maybe even a little bit of back and forth IRL now that I knew Keia was Kara. But it would seem Keia was more interested in breaking through all that tension that’d been building between us and getting right to the fun.
Not that I was complaining, mind you. The kiss was pretty intense. And as our lips pressed together I realized that yeah, the simulation in this game was spot on at a lot more than replicating combat and pain.
Torian, aka Trent the biggest asshole I’d ever had the displeasure of knowing, could eat his heart out. I wrapped my arms around Keia, getting into the moment and enjoyed myself, truly enjoying myself, for maybe the first time since they lost Diana.
Keia finally pulled away and grinned. Blushed. Looked down and brushed a strand of hair away from her face. I’d never seen a girl who looked more beautiful than she did in that moment, and that was only partially because she’d been making out with me pretty hot and heavy just moments ago.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know what came over me. I was wondering what that would feel like and…"
"No," I said. "You don't have to apologize at all. In fact…"
I pulled her close again. This time I was the one taking charge as I pressed my lips against hers. It felt good to be taking charge again after spending so much of my time today reacting to things instead of taking the initiative.
She tensed for a moment, a long worrying moment where an irrational part of me screamed that I’d read this situation wrong for all that she’d just kissed me, then she melted into me and all was right with the world. I held her against me and enjoyed the single greatest video gaming experience I’d ever had in my life.
We’re talking even better than the time I managed to solo Neonyxia in NuWoW through means that were quickly patched out of the game once the video of that livestream hit the Internet.
Eventually, frustratingly, we had to come up for air. Even though what we were breathing was technically a digital representation of a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and everything else and not the real stuff we were breathing back in whatever room we sat in paralyzed by the Lotus hardware.
This was one moment where I didn’t want to think about the disintermediation that came with the Lotus hardware. I had a beautiful woman in my arms, and it was real to me. That’s all that mattered.
"Holy shit," I breathed. "I suppose that answers one question about how realistic this game can be."
"You've got that right!" Keia said.
We took a moment to regain our composure. Keia smoothed her armor even though it was rigid leather which meant there was no need to smooth anything. Finally she took a deep breath and tried to hit me with a semi-serious look, but even then she couldn’t help but break into a goofy grin that warmed my heart.
And other regions of my body. Lotus had been extremely thorough with mapping natural biological responses to situations like this, and I found myself turning to the side so it wouldn’t be too obvious, which was good for a giggle from Keia as she clearly realized what I was doing.
And I immediately stopped doing it once I realized what I was doing. She had to have felt the damn thing pressing into her while we were making out, so what was the point in trying to hide it now?
“So what what now?" she asked once she’d stopped giggling at my odd dance.
“Right now I’d love nothing more than to go look at some of the crafting tools that are no doubt all over this town, avoid some Horizon people, figure out a little bit more about this Spellcrafting thing, meet up with Kristoph, come up with a plan to…"
Keia grinned and shook her head.
"What?" I asked.
"You," she said. "Still planning, even after that."
I shrugged. "I figure the thing that got you interested in me in the first place was my scheming, not my stellar fighting ability, so why not keep at it? If I manage to kick Horizon out maybe I'll get more than a kiss!"
Keia rolled her eyes. "Men. You're all pigs."
"Says the girl who just made out with a pig in a back alley in a videogame," I retorted.
“A fair point,” she said. “And who knows? You might get more than that kiss even if you don’t kick Horizon out of here. It’ll help your chances, of course, but it’s not like you have to defeat the dragon to get the maiden fair.”
“Oh?” I said, even more intrigued.
“Totally,” she said, her bow and arrow materializing in her hands. “This maiden is interested in coming along for the dragonslaying.”
Holy fuck was this girl more amazing the more time I spent around her.
“So we’re heading to the local forge or something?” she asked.
I glanced at the time. Realized that it was very late. On a school night. As much as I didn’t think school was doing all that much to prepare me for the crapsack world waiting for me after graduation, I could also get in shit if I missed too much.
“I think we’re both going to have to dodge the alleys in a few hours and pretend to not be sleeping in class,” I said.
Her eyes went distant, then wide. “Fuck. I didn’t realize it was this late!”
“You and me both,” I said.
I reached out and touched her hand. She wrapped her fingers in mine and met me goofy smile for goofy smile.
“See you tomorrow at school?” I asked, holding my breath.
There was still a part of me that couldn't believe all this was happening. That she might be totally willing to suck face with me in the game, but not acknowledge me at school or something. Which was a ridiculous thought, but stranger things had happened.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
I figured that was a good high point to log out on. I’d been flailing around and reacting to what other people were doing to me all day long, but reacting to what just happened with Keia was just fine with me.
It was crazy, but in the best possible way. That goofy grin stayed plastered on my face as I thought of logging down and the timer ticked down to pull me back into a real world that was suddenly a hell of a lot more interesting than it’d been before I logged into Lotus earlier this evening.
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!