Five minutes later we stood in front of a massive auction house.
“This thing is huge,” Kristoph said. “At least compared to the other buildings in town.”
“Makes sense,” I said. “The palace where money changes hands would be something special in a goblin town.”
“Oh this place is special all right,” Keia said.
The facade out front was white marble with gold inlaid at various spots showing symbols of a scale and goblin faces. Statues of goblins ran around the second level staring down, though I got the feeling I was looking at statues depicting notable goblins and not grotesques that would make an appearance on a human structure.
A steady stream of players moved in and out of the place as well. I knew from my research that the auction house connected to auctions all around the game world, so anything sold here could be bought and sold to anyone anywhere in the game world in a bit of game design that put mechanics ahead of realism.
I’d read all about it while I was doing my research.
“It’s fitting, you know,” I said.
“What’s fitting?” Keia asked.
“This monument to capitalism here,” I said. “It’s fitting this is the place where we start our journey.”
“Slow your roll there Mr. Keynes,” Kristoph said with a snort. “You’re just a dude with a bunch of ore and a bunch of pissed off competition right now.”
I stuck my tongue out at him. He responded by reaching out like he was going to grab it, but I ducked and stepped through the front entrance.
I half expected someone from Horizon Dawn to try and stop us when we stepped through the doors, but there were only goblin guards here. One of them looked up at me, and then elbowed the one next to him. They both looked at me and then started whispering back and forth.
For a terrified moment I thought that maybe Horizon Dawn had figured out the whole Writ of Nobility thing and I was about to be bent over and taken to Pound Town, population me, vis a vis those sharp pointy swords that could’ve doubled as kitchen knives for a human.
Only they didn’t make a move to attack me, and I figured it was time I had a conversation with one of the goblins who’d saved my ass a few times, even if I had no way of knowing whether or not these particular goblins had saved my ass.
“What are you doing?” Keia hissed as I detoured towards the goblins guarding the place.
“Winning hearts and minds,” I muttered under my breath.
I got down on my knees in front of the goblin guards. They both eyed me critically, but they weren’t trying to gut me or looking at me like they’d like to try and gut me, which was a big improvement over how they looked at Horizon Dawn.
“Yes this is the auction house,” the goblin on the right said with a long suffering sigh that said he did this sort of thing a lot. “Walk up to the…”
“Thanks, but that’s not what I need,” I said.
The goblin blinked. “It’s not?”
“Then what could you possibly want?” the goblin asked, its voice telling me that I was probably the first human since the game launched who’d ever bothered to talk to him for anything that didn’t involve obvious directions or instructions.
“I wanted to thank you guys,” I said. “You’ve saved my ass a couple of times, and I appreciate it.”
“You… I… Well… Um… Thanks?”
The goblin’s ears wiggled. I didn’t know a whole hell of a lot about goblin body language, but from the way the little guy stood just a little taller he was pleased.
“No need to thank me,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. For a wonder he smiled instead of trying to ram his sword into my hand. “You’re the guys saving my butt whenever Horizon Dawn tries to cause trouble. Pass my regards on to your coworkers and captain.”
“I will,” the goblin said. “Thank you.”
On a whim I pulled the coin Rezzik had given me on my first day in the game. The coin he said marked me as a friend of the goblins. I figured it was possible he’d been yanking my chain, but I also figured it couldn’t help to flash a little bling.
So I flipped the coin through the air. The goblins’ eyes went even wider when they realized what I had. I held it up at them and then disappeared it back into my inventory.
“Good talking to you gents,” I said with a nod.
A notification popped up letting me know my reputation with the Goblinsteel Syndicate had gone up again. It didn’t go up to the point that there was a status change, but it was still nice to know that was working.
“Good idea there,” Keia said. “Get on their good side and we might be able to use that.”
“Well that and I really am thankful for what they’ve done for me,” I said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an ulterior motive kissing up to them, but they also deserve kudos for saving our asses.”
“They’re NPCs in a game,” Keia said. “I might not like what Horizon Dawn was doing to them, but at the end of the day they’re ones and zeroes that sound awfully close to reality when they’re being slaughtered. Doesn’t make them real.”
I looked at the goblins grinning and chatting with each other and casting the occasional glances at me. They seemed a hell of a lot happier than they’d been before I chatted with them.
I thought to Rezzik. To how real his terror had been on that first day when he was so convinced he was about to die.
“I don’t know about that,” I said.
Keia shrugged as though to say she didn’t think it was worth arguing the point. I felt the same way considering some asshole from Horizon Dawn could come wandering in here at any moment, see us, and make life more difficult.
A steady drone of voices surrounded us even though it wasn’t all that crowded in here. Maybe they added the sound of a crowd to make the place feel busier than it was. A little hyperreality in the middle of virtual reality.
A small smattering of players chatted with goblin auctioneers who stood on a raised platform that ran around the auction house interior.
"So how does this work?" I asked. “Same as any other game with an auction house?”
"Would you believe I have no clue?" Keia asked.
"I do have trouble believing that, actually," I said.
"What can I say?" she said. "Torian didn’t let other people handle putting the gear up when he got it, and I never found anything in my adventures that was worth taking to the auction house.”
“Wait, so how was he getting that gear from Horizon?” I asked. “They aren’t creating the stuff for themselves in the game somewhere?”
“No idea,” she said. “All I know is the gear would appear in Torian’s mail and from there it was up to him to put it up on the auction house and then send the profits he got back.”
“You’re sure he only put it up on the auction house for Horizon?” I asked, wanting to be absolutely sure.
"I'm pretty sure someone has to physically list something on the auction house," she said. "At least Torian was always going on in guild chat about how he was the only one trusted to do it. He was also always going on about how much he was making from Horizon for being their errand bitch.”
"Wait, they’re paying him to play the damn game above and beyond giving him money so he could get into the early access?” I asked.
"Pretty much," she said. "Good work if you can get it, right?"
"I guess so," I said.
"I'm pretty sure that's how I was able to get into the game early as well," Keia said.
"But how did he pull that off?" I asked. “How the hell did he get in contact with Horizon to get in early in the first place?”
"I don't know?" she said. "He was always going on about how he had an uncle who worked at Horizon. I always thought he was full of it, but maybe that's how. Either way, he became their point of contact in this town, and he’s totally let it go to his head."
"Sounds like something Trent would do," I said.
“Look, sitting and chatting about our mortal enemy is all well and good, but maybe we should get a move on before those mortal enemies make an appearance?” Kristoph asked, glancing at the door.
I shrugged and walked up to one of the goblin auctioneers. They were a study in contrasts from the goblin guards or Rezzik.
The guards and Rezzik had an undercurrent of fear and desperation. Like they knew Horizon Dawn might decide at any moment to end them. Rezzik had literally been running from that fate, after all.
These auctioneer goblins had an air about them. As if they were the supreme beings at the center of their world, and they knew it. They also didn’t have that undercurrent of fear. Maybe they knew on some level that Horizon Dawn needed them to ply their wares. Maybe they were simply too full of themselves to ever conceive of a world where they might be in danger from an external attack.
The auctioneer regarded me with a look that wasn't entirely pleasant. The corner of the goblin’s mouth turned down as it took me in. As though it wasn’t particularly pleased with my relatively noobish attire.
And here I’d hoped I was getting a good thing going with the goblins. Oh well. I got the feeling the ones running the auction house were probably cut from slightly different cloth than the ones who were wielding cudgels and swords and keeping the peace in town.
"I don't know what you think you'll find here with me, but if you're looking for trinkets and lower-level starter equipment you would be better off checking the central bazaar around the town circle," the goblin said, his voice sounding a hell of a lot more cultured than the goblins who wielded the cudgels and swords and kept the peace in town.
"Are you sure about that?" I asked, bristling at this treatment. "Because I have some items I needed to list."
The goblin sniffed. Apparently that was the universal signal for getting rid of the riff-raff whether we were in some fancy place in the real world or dealing with some snooty goblin auctioneer who thought he was too good for my money.
"Again, I don't think you'll find much of a market for your low-level trinkets here in the auction house. Everyone can go out and slay wolves for a little spare coin. Which means there's something of a glut of wolf pelts on the market at the moment. You're not the first one to think of something like that, though they never stop to think through that you need to have a market for the things you’re selling.”
"What about these?" I asked. I pulled up my inventory and selected one of the Nhewb’s Blessing potions. The thing still glowed with a faint yellow light. I guess that hadn’t been a trick of the light back in Trelor’s Oddments.
The goblin’s eyes went wide as he regarded the potion. He reached out to grab at it with a clawed hand, but I held it back just out of the goblin’s reach.
"Oh no," I said, my voice dripping with mock severity. "I wouldn't dream of sullying your precious auction house with my swill," I said. "A special potion, to be sure. I’d dare say it’s worth more than a wolf pelt, but I understand if it isn’t good enough for your fine establishment.”
The goblin sighed and rolled his eyes. "More of that strange enchanted stuff from beyond? I have to give you credit for stealing it from our new overlords, but we don’t take kindly to theft around here. If this was stolen I will have to report you to the guards and they will notify the parties it was stolen from.”
I bristled even more at that. Here I’d gone to the trouble of learning how to craft potions after gathering all these petals fair and square, and this goblin with a quarterstaff up his ass was threatening to turn me in for selling my own shit?
"If you're talking about those assholes from Horizon Dawn then no. I only touch their stuff when I’ve killed them fair and square. There’s no Thief Mark on these,” I hissed, referencing a little red border around stolen items in the inventory that meant they could only be sold to less than reputable dealers. “I made these potions myself, thank you very much.”
The goblin gave me a considering look. As though he was looking at me with fresh eyes.
"You don't like them?" the goblin asked, his eyes darting around the room as his voice went low.
A new notification window popped up telling me that my reputation with the Sword and Scale Syndicate had just gone from Neutral to Friendly. Fascinating.
There also seemed to be a warning there. I’d gained reputation with auctioneers. The scales they used to balance money seemed obvious enough, but the implication that they also found enough use for the sword that they included it in their name was ominous.
I looked around the room as well. A few Horizon Dawn people had come in while I was chatting, but none of them were players I’d seen before. At least I was pretty sure they weren’t players I’d seen before. It was entirely possible I’d blown them up recently and simply hadn’t realized it because they all looked the same when they were bunching together and obligingly providing a nice target for me to blow to hell and back.
I was also facing away from them, and so I turned back towards the goblin. I’d bet good money Torian had screenshots he’d been distributing of me. At least that’s what I’d do if I were in his shoes.
They were far enough away that I figured it was safe enough to carry on a conversation. It's not like the big three assholes were in there.
"I hate their guts," I said. "And with a little luck I'm going to screw them all over and kick them out of this town. Out of this world, if I have anything to say about it. Out of my world too, if I’m really good.”
The goblin sniffed and stood straight again. Though even when it held itself to its full height with the added boost from the platform it still barely came to my shoulders. There was a twinkle in its eye now. Apparently what I said had tickled the goblin’s fancy.
"I'd like to see you do that," the goblin said, and the crazy thing was he sounded sincere for the first time since we’d started our little chat.
"Right," I said. "So could I go ahead and see the auction interface? I have some stuff I need to sell.”
“But of course,” the goblin said, sketching a little bow that might’ve been an actual bow, or it might’ve been mocking. It was difficult to tell for sure since this goblin appeared to speak English, Goblin, and Sarcasm.
An interface popped up. It was nice to know I wouldn't have to actually stand here and talk with the goblin to list my items. He’d worried that might be the case judging by the people standing around talking to the other goblins.
I took a deep breath and let it out. This was it. This would either set in motion a series of events that fucked over Horizon in a big way, or it’d be a massive failure and I’d have to go back to the drawing board.
Either way, it was time to list some shit and see how much it was worth.
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!