"That went well," Keia said.
She was staring at the still receding form of Torian, alternately screaming abuse and in pain, with a predatory gleam in her eyes that reminded me it would be a terrible idea to ever get on her bad side.
"Tell me about it," I said, glancing to the forge down the street and the Horizon Dawn wall still around it even though we’d left. "I guess we need to find a different forge."
The real bitch was they were all standing together which meant it’d be easy and fun to take them out, but that wasn’t something I dared do considering all the trouble it would cause.
"I think that's the only forge in this town," Keia said.
"That can't possibly be the only forge in town," I said. “This place is way too big for that.”
“Is it?” Kristoph asked. “I think you got spoiled by the Elder Scrolls games where there are always redundant crafting locations.”
Keia and I both turned to stare at him with just a touch of surprise. He shrugged.
“Hang around this guy long enough and you pick up a few things,” he said.
“There has to be more than one,” I said. “Is there a way to pull up a city map or something and…"
I cut off. Because of course the moment I started thinking about pulling up a city map the game obliged me by pulling up a map with key locations marked. With glowing runes rather than in English, which wasn’t helpful at all. I stared at the thing and thought about getting a translation, but instead text along the bottom was highlighted.
“Seriously?” I growled.
“What’s up?” Keia asked.
I gestured to the city map. She came around beside me, moving in close which helped temper my frustration.
“The map is labeled in some weird runes. I have to look at the key at the bottom like this is some theme park or something,” I growled.
“Oh yeah, that’s totally in goblin,” she said. “The little guys can speak English, at least the ones in Nilbog, but the devs made some weird artistic choice on maps and other stuff written in whatever their language is.”
I muttered as I scanned the key down at the bottom.
“Find anything?” Kristoph asked.
“There are a couple of crafting hubs, but they’re all in semi-public areas,” I said.
“That’s not ideal,” Keia said.
“Why not? If there’s another forge let’s go there and get to it,” Kristoph said.
I double checked to make sure we were in party chat. The last thing I wanted was for loose lips to sink this ship before it even got a chance to set sail, but Keia beat me to it.
“We want to keep this whole Spellcrafting thing on the down low,” she said. “Using a new ability no one in the game knows about in a public area isn’t the best way to keep things nice and inconspicuous.”
“Spellcrafting?” Kristoph asked. “What the hell is that?”
Again I double checked that we were in party chat, and breathed a sigh of relief. Even knowing the name might be enough for some enterprising asshole to figure out a way to unlock the skill for themselves.
“Wanna fill him in on the short version?” I asked.
I was about to despair of finding what I was looking for when my eyes fell across something interesting.
“Trelor’s Oddments?" I asked. "What the heck is that?"
"Trelor's Oddments?" Keia said. "Never heard of it."
"It's down in the Magic District,” I said. “That sounds promising."
“This town has a Magic District?” Kristoph asked. “And are either of you going to tell me what the hell Spellcrafting is?”
"You think you're going to find a forge in the Magic District?” Keia asked. "What are you smoking? That’s a bunch of wizards and mages and magic types running around in their robes blowing stuff up with powers beyond the understanding of man.”
“It says there’s a crafting hub there,” I said. “Maybe they’ll…”
“Trouble,” Kristoph growled.
I looked up from the map to see a bunch of Horizon Dawn tabards standing close enough to be threatening while far enough away that they wouldn’t raise any goblin guard ire. Though a glance around showed goblins also hanging back a little from the Horizon people with hands on their short swords.
It occurred to me that maybe it wasn't the greatest idea to be talking about anything to do with my crafting endeavors where they could listen in. Sure we were talking in party chat, but it only took one slip of the mind, literally, to push our conversation into general chat which would seriously fuck things up.
"Let's get a move on," I said. "I don't like the company around here."
Keia looked up and seemed to realize we were surrounded by Horizon Dawn. Her mouth turned down in distaste.
"Good call," she said. "Let's get the hell out of here."
“Aww, are you sure I can’t smash one of their heads in?” Kristoph asked.
A few of the Horizon Dawn people frowned at that. Meanwhile Kristoph grinned. He’d sent that one out in general chat intentionally. Which was yet another illustration of why it was a bad idea to be standing here having this conversation. What if he forgot to switch back?
“Come on,” I said. “Act casual. Like we’re out for a stroll and don’t see them.”
“Pretty hard to act like that after what Kristoph just said,” Keia muttered.
So we turned and walked. Which wasn’t a great escape plan, but I figured they wouldn’t try anything with the guards obviously watching. Then again I’d underestimated Horizon Dawn’s stupidity a few times before and been unpleasantly surprised.
And it looked like they didn’t care that their were goblins out looking for an excuse to turn them into pincushions, because they followed right along behind us. They didn’t even bother to look like they were sneaking around.
"Looks like we still have company," Kristoph said.
"Fucking great," Keia said. "They're probably hoping to catch us unawares off in some back alley where they can fuck us up.”
"Wholesome bunch, these Horizon Dawn assholes,” Kristoph said.
“Idiots, too, with all those goblins watching,” I said.
"You don't know the half of it," she said.
"So what do we do?" I asked. “I’m not worried they’ll be able to catch us, but I also don’t want them following us to see my crafting.”
"You keep walking," Keia said. "Make yourself look like a nice juicy target and walk into a side alley. Me and Kristoph will take care of the rest."
"Are you out of your elven mind?" I asked.
Kristoph grinned. “How does it feel being the bait for a change?”
“You’re going to be the bait too,” she said. “Keep walking when he ducks into his side alley. I want to split them up. The better to shoot their asses.”
Kristophs face fell.
Then she was gone. I wanted to protest, but it wasn't like I could stand and argue with nothing.
"For the record," I said into party chat where I knew she could hear me. "I didn't agree to a single bit of this, and I'm not happy about it!"
“The more you stand around talking to nothing the more chance you give away that we're doing something even if they can’t hear what you’re saying,” Keia said. "So you might want to shut up and start looking like a big juicy newbie who’s easy to kill sooner rather than later."
I said a few choice words about her not giving me much of a choice in being the "big juicy target," but I also knew I didn't have much choice. I’d pulled this with Kristoph often enough that I knew the drill. From the way he was grinning ear to ear and waggling his eyebrows at me he was enjoying the ever loving fuck out of me being put in this situation.
I could only hope she was just as crafty as I was when it came to making up a plan on the fly. Otherwise we were going to be in some serious trouble.
“Remind me to never do this to you again,” I growled at Kristoph.
“I remind you every time you do it to me,” he said. “I don’t think this time is going to be any different though.”
“Probably not,” I said as I walked along with him trying to find an obvious alley to duck into as we got closer to the Magic District.
Besides, he was right. There wasn’t a chance I wasn't going to do something like this to Kristoph ever again just because I was in the boiling pot right now.
Putting Kristoph in awkward and potentially life-threatening situations in the name of pulling off a good plan was one of the things I enjoyed the most about playing games with Kristoph. Even Kristoph tended to agree, eventually, if the way he continued to allow himself to be put up as the sacrificial offering was anything to go by.
"Okay. I need to look like a nice juicy noob who's waiting to get the crap kicked out of me in a dark alley," I said. "That shouldn't be too hard. Especially since I am a complete noob and they could easily kick the crap out of me if they wanted to."
The crowd seemed to be thinning out as we got closer to the Magic District. That seemed about right. In my experience there weren't all that many people who were interested in a nice squishy magic glass cannon when they could get out there and smack stuff around with sharp pointy weapons or thick blunt weapons.
Or maybe the lack of people was simply the fates aligning and creating the perfect opportunity for me and Kristoph to get ganked.
Whatever the reason, I wasn't sure if I should be happy or upset that I’d suddenly found myself in a much thinner crowd.
“I think I see my exit up ahead,” I said, looking at an alley that, oddly enough, ran right behind this Trelor’s Oddments place and the crafting hub for the Magic District. Not that there was any way to get to that crafting hub from here. The alley was a dead end.
I really hoped Keia knew what she was doing.
“Good luck man,” Kristoph said.
“You too,” I said.
“No worries for me,” he said. “I’m used to it. Try to dodge when they shove their daggers at your kidneys, by the way, that seems to be one of the premade combat moves the stealth types use.”
“Thanks,” I said, feeling sick to my stomach as I imagined a dagger sinking into my kidneys. Virtual or otherwise, pain slider aside, that sounded like it’d hurt like a motherfucker.
I turned into a surprisingly well-maintained alley. Not the dank and dark alley good for some surreptitious roughing up I’d been hoping for. Though on second thought I wasn’t sure why I should be hoping for a place that was conducive to having a bunch of people roughing me up.
Intricate stonework fit together on either wall. The one nearest me was carved in the shape of a wizard calling down fire from the sky. We’re talking the kind of thing that wouldn’t have been out of place airbrushed on the side of an ancient conversion van back when internal combustion vehicles were still a thing.
"Okay then," I said. "I'm here. What are you doing Keia?"
"So you are here," a mysterious voice said from behind me.
A mysterious voice that din’t belong to Keia or any of the Horizon Dawn assholes I’d run into so far, though that didn’t mean this wasn’t a new Horizon Dawn asshole. I turned towards the shadows gathering in the back of the alley, though that seemed like an odd place for shadows to be gathering considering the sun was almost overhead and more than capable of beaming its nuclear fire down into the alley.
"Though my name isn’t Keia,” the voice said from behind me and towards the alley entrance. “It is nice to finally meet you though, Conlan.”
I jumped and turned from my inspection of the shadowy back wall. And found myself facing a man who looked an awful lot like the wizard depicted in the alley wall.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"Nice to meet you too," the wizard said. "It's good to see manners are still alive and well in the younger generation."
I looked the man up and down. He wore long robes and a hat that was just a touch too short to have the classic Merlin vibe to it. Also his beard wasn't long, flowing, and white. Rather it was close cropped. More of a bright orange Van Dyke than a traditional wizard beard.
Which had me wondering if this guy was a good wizard, or a bad wizard. That sort of facial hair was usually associated with asshole mages who preferred using their powers to mess with heroic transplanted football players trying to interrupt their plans for universal domination and not the friendly good sort of wizard who did nice things for their friends like handing out oddly flavored jellybeans or singlehandedly taking on a balrog.
"Well you already know who I am," I said.
I tried to project a confidence I didn’t feel. Especially when Horizon Dawn was at my back and Keia would be appearing any time now to take out anyone potentially attacking me. The problem being I wasn’t sure if this guy was attacking me or not, and I had the strange certain feeling that attacking him would be a bad idea.
“I do know quite a bit about you, Colin” the wizard said.
I jumped. This guy knew my real name. I mean sure Torian and company also knew who I was, but I knew who they were. I didn’t like some random asshole knowing who I was.
“So it seems only fair that you tell me who you are?” I asked. “Maybe in and out of the game?”
This guy had “player character” written all over him, though oddly enough when I tried to inspect him nothing came up. Which had me wondering what the hell he was, but I figured we could start with a name.
"I am Trelor,” the wizard said. "And I was hoping you would make your way to my little neck of the woods here. Or my little corner of the town. Whatever. My part of the game.”
Okay. He knew this was a game. Which meant there had to be a human behind the wizard, right? Unless the machines had risen while I was in here, which seemed unlikely since I was still alive. Unless they wanted to trap us in a game in a Matrix style apocalypse instead of the kind of apocalypse that featured Schwarzenegger killing shit well past his prime.
"Right," I said, suddenly figuring it might be a better idea to take my chances with Horizon Dawn than to stay around this enigma who knew who I was. "Well I've kind of got some people who are after me and some friends who are trying to kill them, and I know they're not going to like it if they see me chatting with strange wizards, so…"
"You mean those friends?" Trelor said, gesturing towards the end of the alley.
I wheeled around just in time to see the assholes from Horizon Dawn who'd been tailing me looking down at the alleyway. Right at me. Us.
They should’ve seen us. Only they stared right through us. Obviously something was cloaking us from those assholes.
I wheeled around and faced the youngish wizard again. Looked at him with a newfound respect, and a healthy touch of fear. This time when I spoke, my voice was almost reverent. I got the feeling I definitely wasn’t looking at a mere NPC, and I didn’t know what to make of it.
"Who are you?" I asked.
"A friend," Trelor said. "Now come. Join me in my shop. I can assure you no one will bother you while we have a chat about some of the new abilities you’ve discovered.”
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!