Trelor slammed a meaty palm down on his desk again. “You want to know why the fuck they’re running around in our game? Because we made a deal with them and apparently the middle management pukes and legal idiots never thought to put in a clause that prevented them from invading the game!”
“I mean that was pretty fucking stupid not anticipating that they’d pull the IOI Gambit,” I said. “But why the hell would they make any deal with Horizon in the first place?”
Trelor’s face screwed up in something that looked like genuine pain. When he spoke his voice was quiet, but full of cold fury.
“Those fuckers threatened to slow down our fucking game on their infrastructure if we didn’t give them a new way to make money now that we were killing the cash cow they’d been milking for the past couple of years with those shitty modules they rushed to market.”
“But they own like all the infrastructure,” I said.
“Exactly. Word is the executives figured it wasn’t a big deal. Let Horizon sell items in the game. People would go to raid dungeons to get most of their loot anyway,” Trelor said. “They didn’t anticipate the IOI Gambit, which goes to show how little the assholes in management know about the culture they’re regularly fleecing for those huge bonuses.”
I sat back. Trelor waved a hand and something appeared behind me, which was a good thing for my tailbone since I’d been headed on a one way trip to the floor before.
“They come to you and threaten to throttle the game if you don’t give them something. Lotus offers them in-game item sales because you don’t think it’ll be a big deal with raiding. Then they invade and shut down raiding so players will buy their stuff. Those motherfuckers!”
“Agreed,” Trelor said. “Motherfuckers of the highest order.”
“What about the forums?” I said. “I couldn’t find anything on the official Lotus forums about Horizon taking over.”
Trelor’s mouth turned down at the corners. “Yeah, my understanding is the community managers are basically working insane hours keeping those posts off the forums. They don’t want to embarrass the company while the lawyers wrangle with Horizon.”
“I’m guessing the lawyers wrangling isn’t doing much good since they’re still here even after having a month to do their work in early access,” I said.
“As a duly designated representative of Lotus I cannot comment on ongoing legal matters,” Trelor said while making a jerking off motion.
“What about crafting?” I asked.
“What about it?” Trelor asked.
“Horizon is focused on selling items in game and they’re shutting down raiding, but what about crafting? Couldn’t players make stuff that’s as good as or better than the shit Horizon is selling?”
Trelor leaned forward again. All the glowing implements came to life at the same moment, and it gave him and his smile a slightly unhinged feel.
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone came along and did something like that using the wonderful system I put together for a person who loves crafting more than PVP, PVE, and raiding combined?”
I was already sitting, so there was no need for me to do another stunned sit down. The enormity of what he was implying without coming out and saying it was sinking in. This was big. Way bigger than anything I’d done before.
A chance to grab Horizon by the danglies and repeatedly punch a multinational corporate monstrosity exactly where it would hurt them: their bottom line.
“So you really don’t like Horizon, do you?” he asked.
"I don't," I said.
"Any particular reason why?" Trelor asked. "Like did they stiff you on a module refund or something when you realized it was shit and tried to get your money back?”
"The bastards killed my sister," I said. "They turned her into a vegetable with some bad mental feedback or something. I don't know the technicalities of it, but they fucked up the direct connection into her brain and they killed her. I can’t prove it, but I think they did it deliberately. I had to watch as we disconnected her from life support and hold her hand as she breathed her last breath, but she was long gone at that point.”
A long awkward pause filled the room.
"Is that so?" he finally asked. “I’d heard some of the stories.”
“Oh?” I asked, suddenly interested. “So do you have any insider knowledge on what happened? I know Lotus is a party to some of the lawsuits, but there hasn’t been much in the news about it.”
“None of that is my department. Sure some people got fired when the higher ups realized it was possible for Horizon to do something like that, but even that’s just rumor. They’re being tight-lipped while legal does their thing,” he said.
“So Lotus is trying to cover it up?” I asked, feeling a spike of anger.
“As far as I know they’re doing everything they can to make sure nothing like that can ever happen again while also waiting for everything to go through the courts since Horizon is being less than forthcoming about what happened to everyone. Us included,” he said.
“You swear there’s no coverup?” I said.
“I swear I don’t know anything about a coverup if there is one,” he said. “I’m trying to tell you. I know as much as you when it comes to Horizon killing people with the Lotus hardware. If there’s some conspiracy out there they didn’t invite me into it.”
I sighed. That was about what I’d expected. For a wonderful moment I’d thought maybe I’d get more information about what had killed Diana. So much for that hope.
“So are you still going to work with me?” he asked.
I thought that over. I guess I’d always known there was the possibility that Lotus might somehow be involved in everything that happened with Diana, even if that involvement was something as simple as not telling the world about the flaw that Horizon was able to exploit to kill her.
Still, there was something about Trelor that made me believe him. Maybe Lotus did have something to do with those deaths. Maybe not. Either way, I believed him when he said he didn’t have anything to do with it.
“So what do you say, kid?” he asked. “Are we going to work together on this or what?”
Who was I kidding? This was the opportunity of a lifetime. Someone from Lotus appearing and telling me he wanted my help fucking over Horizon. This went well beyond exploiting the game.
“Fine. We have a deal,” I said.
“I’m glad you…”
“On the condition you bring my friends in on it too.”
Trelor paused. He looked at me with the sort of wary eyes that said he didn’t like what was going on here.
“Your friends?” he asked.
“Their names are Keia and Kristoph. I’ve been gaming with Kristoph since we were both kids, and I know Keia in the real world and the game. She’s a badass who’s helped me fighting Horizon.”
“And does your desire to have her helping you have anything to do with how she looks in whatever tight armor she parades around in?” Trelor asked, his tone quite dry.
“Does it matter?” I asked.
“You know I could have you banned from the game permanently,” he said.
“You could try something like that,” I said. “But then you’d have to go looking for someone else. And I can assure you you’re never going to find someone who hates Horizon as much as I do while also possessing my unique resume.”
“Your unique resume?” he asked, sounding like a man who needed to be convinced of something.
Luckily I had just the thing to prove to him just how much he needed me and no one else. So I pulled up the first person video of me taking out the Horizon gamemaster and played it for the second time since that fateful day.
“The Horizon GM job?” he asked. “Big deal. I’ve seen videos of that a…”
“Look at the point of view,” I said. “You’ve never seen a video like this.”
Trelor watched, and his eyes grew wider and wider. His mouth fell open in astonishment. By the time the video was done he was staring at me, and then he did something unexpected. He started bowing over his desk over and over again.
“I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”
He paused. Cocked an eyebrow. “Wayne’s World? A classic of late twentieth century cinema? Don’t tell me you’ve never seen it.”
“Sorry?” I said. “I’m mostly into video games. Not movies.”
“Kids these days,” he said with an eye roll to let me know just what he thought of my lack of sophistication when it came to classic cinema.
“So what do you think?” I said. “Do we have a deal?”
He sighed. “Bring them into a party with you.”
“They already are,” I said.
“Good. Makes this easier,” he said.
He stroked a crystal ball filled with pink glowing mist, and a moment later a very surprised Keia and Kristoph appeared in the middle of the magic shop. Keia had her bow raised and was snarling at something, and Kristoph was covered in blood with his hammer held up in a defensive posture as he leaned back.
Keia let loose with the arrow she’d been holding, and it slammed into a crystal ball that exploded in a puff of magic when the arrow hit. Both of them looked around, then locked on me.
“What the hell just happened?” Keia asked.
“Whatever it is, thank goodness it did happen,” Kristoph said. “I didn’t think I was going to last much longer against those assholes.”
“Having problems?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Keia said. “You weren’t where you were supposed to be luring those Horizon Dawn pricks, and so we ended up having to fight off a bigger group than I was anticipating.”
“Sorry,” I muttered. “But I was a little busy talking to Trelor the Magnificent here.”
“Trelor the What?” Keia asked, turning and looking at the wizard.
“Trelor the Magnificent, at your service my lady,” he said, finally standing from his desk and doing a little bow.
“And who the fuck is Trelor the Magnificent?” Kristoph asked.
“Works for Lotus,” I said, enjoying the delicious looks of disbelief that crossed their faces as I said it. “He wants our help kicking Horizon out of their game for good.”
Naturally it took a bit of convincing after that. We ran over everything Trelor just covered with me, and by the end Keia and Kristoph both looked as stunned as I’d felt when first introduced to the wizard.
“I just don’t understand,” Keia said.
“Ask any questions you want,” Trelor said. “I’ll answer them as best I can, but as Conlan here has already learned there’s plenty of stuff outside my area that I’m not privy to.”
“Why not shut them down?” Keia asked. “Surely what they’re doing invading the game world is violating a term of service or a clause or something?”
Trelor shrugged. “Going into raid dungeons isn’t against the rules. PvP isn’t against the rules. Every player who got access to early access paid their money fair and square from their accounts. They’re doing something that goes against the spirit of the game, and it’s frustrating everyone in the company, but the moment we start banning players with legit accounts they’ll cry foul and Horizon will make hay out of the headlines. ‘Lotus bans users who prefer the products we allowed them to sell in our game!’ Yeah, the gaming press will have a field day with that, and you know how reasonable gamers as a population are when it comes to this sort of thing.”
“So what the hell are we supposed to do to stop them if they’re using the system against us?” Kristoph asked.
Trelor paused. A thin smile played across his face. “What they weren’t counting on was my loophole.”
“A loophole?” Keia asked.
“The in-game crafting system I created and put into the game. A crafting system that includes things like the Spellcraft ability Conlan unlocked.”
“And you’re going to help him use that to fuck over Horizon?” Kristoph asked.
Trelor held up a hand. “I’m here to guide you, but I have to be careful how much involvement I have. If certain elements in the company found out what I was doing… Well let’s just say there are certain people in this company who want plausible deniability if I’m caught, so I’m going to do everything I can to avoid that. I hate Horizon, but I like my job, if you catch my drift.”
“I don’t care what your motivations are,” I said. "You want a little bit of revenge on Horizon, and I want to do anything I can to hurt them. So I guess we're in this together."
“Yeah,” Keia said with a sigh. “I guess we’re in this together.”
“I go where you go, man,” Kristoph said. “Besides. What’s Horizon going to do? Sue us? Can’t get jack shit out of someone who has nothing to begin with.”
I held a hand out. Trelor regarded that hand for a moment where I thought he might be having second thoughts about relying on a group of teenagers to enact his grand plan to bring the fight to Horizon by fighting unfair with unfair, then he reached out and took my offered hand.
“I’m already one of the senior designers for one of the greatest videogames that’s ever been created,” he muttered as he shook Conlan’s hand. “The worst that could happen to me is I get fired and go to another company where I’ll get a shitload more money for a quarter of the workload.”
“Seriously?” I asked.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Lotus people can write their own ticket in the industry right now. Lots of companies are scrambling to nab people with experience developing for the earbuds. But I’m not going down without a fight here.”
"So," I said, regarding him as we shook hands. "What exactly can you tell me about Spellcrafting? Is it going to be as easy to break the game with this crafting system as I think it is?"
“You’re a gamer after my own heart,” Trelor said. “I can already tell I’m going to enjoy this even if I don’t get fired and get to go off to another cushy job where I can coast for the rest of my career.”
I grinned right back at him. “Opportunities to fuck over Horizon are something money can’t buy.”
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!