"You're not so tough now, are you smartass?"
The punch landed against my face and he fell back. Unluckily Gregor was back there, newly resurrected after taking that shot to the chin from Kristoph, to hold me in place. Which was a damn shame. With the way I felt I would’ve much rather slumped down and taken a nice nap.
"Fuck you," I said, spitting blood out onto the ground.
That was a nice touch. I looked down at my in game blood with fascination. A horrified sort of fascination, to be sure, but still fascination. It was the first time I’d ever been involved in a real fight, after all, even if it was a real fight taking place in a virtual reality world.
“Fuck me?” Torian said, then laughed. He slammed a gauntleted hand across my face, and pain bloomed as something in my cheek cracked. “Fuck you, asshole!”
This was the kind of thing I never actually thought would happen to me. Sure there were people who got into fights in school. Sure I’d come close to getting into a fight with Trent earlier.
It’s just that something had always come along to save my ass at the last moment. My plan to kill the Horizon GM actually worked. I figured out a way to exploit the crafting system to blow people up. Mr. Thompson came out of nowhere to save my ass at the last moment.
There was always something, so it was a huge surprise to be in a back alley, hidden from prying guard eyes by a wall of Horizon Dawn pricks at the alley entrance, getting the shit kicked out of me by my least favorite people in the virtual and real world.
“Fuck. You. With. A. Jagged. Barbed. Rusted. Dildo!”
I wanted to admire his creative use of language, but it was difficult considering he was punctuating every word with a punch to some part of my body that he hadn’t worked over yet.
The pain felt real enough, but whatever. It might’ve felt real, but I knew it wasn’t the real thing and somehow that helped me go into a sort of zen state where it didn’t hurt as much because I knew it wasn’t real.
Which was a good thing. It’s not like the pain slider was doing me a damn bit of good considering every punch, kick, and jab was a new bit of pain that flared with full force. It’s also not like I could log out, because apparently the game thought I was in combat.
There was no escape.
Talk about a flaw that could be exploited by assholes who wanted to fuck someone over via VR torture. I was getting a firsthand lesson in the unintended consequences of not letting people log out in the middle of combat right now.
"I told you to watch who you fucked with," Torian said, slapping me across the face again. He slapped the other side this time, and again something cracked inside my head as pain flared. It was nice to know I’d have matching bruises. “And I don't like you moving in on Keia. She's mine, you understand?"
"Doesn't seem like she thinks she's yours, asshole," I said.
“She doesn’t know what she wants!” he bellowed, spittle flying from his mouth as he said it.
“You’d love this,” I said in a private message to Keia. “He’s going on about how the two of you belong together now.”
“I told you no talking in private chat or party chat!” Torian said, bringing a plate armored knee up between my legs.
Again the only thing that kept me from slumping down was Gregor holding me firmly in place. I did let out a sound that seemed pretty close to the sound of ultimate suffering from The Princess Bride. At least it sounded like the sound of ultimate suffering inside my head, though it came out as more of a whimper.
“Tell me where the fuck you are now,” Keia said. “I’m going to kill those assholes!”
“No dice,” I said. “There’s too many of’em.”
“I don’t care!” she said. “I’ll do something!”
“You’ll get yourself killed, is what you’ll do,” I said. “I can handle this.”
“This is not the time for you to act all tough! You’re not impressing me!”
More pain bloomed from my gut. I looked down and saw a gauntleted fist lodged there. How ‘bout that.
“I told you no talking in private chat!” Torian growled. “I can see your fucking lips moving asshole.”
I glanced up to the rooftops around the alley. I saw a sort of weird shimmering up there that was somewhere in between what the Predator looked like in those old movies from the twentieth and what the Klingon cloaking special effect looked like in ancient Star Trek movies of the same vintage.
The fact that I could even see some of the stealthers up there meant they weren’t all that skilled, but I knew there were more up there waiting to kill anyone who tried to rescue me. Kill, or capture.
“So where is your girlfriend?” Torian asked, suddenly sounding so nonchalant that I knew that’s what he really cared about.
They wanted Keia. Or rather he wanted Keia. I shuddered to think what he might do once he had her, so I’d dropped the party so she couldn’t track me and do something ill advised.
“Nowhere near here,” I said, spitting some of that mix of blood and saliva into Torian’s face. Which earned me another couple of hits.
I eyed my inventory as a distraction from the pain that bloomed through my body when Torian landed another hit on my chin. There were just the blue water stones I’d held back just in case something exactly like this happened.
I considered my options. It looked like I was going to reach an unfortunate end here no matter what. Which was bad enough, but the way Torian was talking made it sound like they were also hoping if they did this long enough then Keia might come along and join in the fun.
I wanted to avoid that at all costs. They’d only been working me over for a couple of minutes, and already those were a couple of the worst minutes of my life.
"Listen to me you little shit,” Torian said. "We can do this all night long. I can make you suffer. We learned that from your girlfriend Keia, didn't we?"
"Sure did," Sereh said. “It’s kind of fun doing the things she threatened me with on you. Sort of poetic, or ironic, isn’t it?”
I made my decision. Keia was trying to find me now. There was a steady stream of cursing and yelling coming at me via private message that I’d turned down with a thought so it didn’t distract me from my beating.
If this kept up long enough then she would find us, and then those stealthers up there on the rooftops would do their thing.
I lifted my finger on the hand they hadn’t broken and flipped them the bird. I lifted that finger on my left hand, which distracted them from what I was doing with the other hand back between me and Gregor.
Torian reached out and grabbed that finger. He folded it back on itself until it snapped and bent in a way fingers were never meant to bend. I gritted my teeth against the pain, but it helped knowing that with a little luck the pain wasn’t going to last much longer.
Because Gregor might think I was trying to feel him up with the way he kept doing a little dance to pull his unmentionables away from the hand I was hiding between us, but I was actually busy infusing that water stone with a fire infusion.
Not that I needed to worry all that much about hiding what I was doing since the cruel assholes were high fiving and gloating about the pain they’d caused my offered middle finger.
I wasn't sure how many times I’d be able to pull this trick off before they realized exactly how I was doing it, but as long as these idiots were stupid enough to keep bunching up in groups that could be taken out by a crafting fail state then I was going to keep cheesing that crafting fail state and using it in a way I was pretty sure the designers had never intended.
“He’s laughing,” Sereh said.
“He’s also trying to feel me up!” Gregor grunted, trying to move again as my hand brushed against something I really would’ve rather not touched.
That was almost more unpleasant than the beating I was enduring.
“Believe me Gregor,” I said. “You can add my name to the long list of people who wouldn’t voluntarily touch that part of you if my life depended on it.”
That got a snort from Sereh, though she dropped the smile pretty damn quick at a glare from Torian. He turned and sneered at me.
“You’re awful brave for someone who’s going to test the limits of the game’s pain mechanic before this is all over,” Torian said, pulling a sword out and whipping it through the air in front of me.
I stared in astonishment at the spot where a couple of my fingers, including the one Torian had just bent backwards, had been. It really wasn’t fair that the game had this level of detail, this level of realism, when it came to injuries.
I’d never had a finger cut off in the real world, but I had experienced pain so severe that my body took a little while to catch up to the pain that came along with the injury that’d been visited on me. And it would appear that the same thing was happening to him now.
I stared at the bleeding stumps that until so recently had been my fingers, and a moment later the pain came.
It was blinding. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced, and it was only by gritting my teeth that I managed to avoid screaming at the top of my lungs and giving Torian and these assholes what they’d so obviously been wanting.
And also, incidentally, maybe alerting Keia to where we were with those screams.
Torian leaned in close.
"Hurts, doesn't it?" he said. "I hope it hurts as much as what the goblins did to me when they carted me off to their little dungeon.”
I continued staring defiance at him. It was the only thing I could do. It helped that I could feel the steady pulsing of the gem in my still unmolested hand. A gem that was very pissed off that it had just been filled with a spell that wasn't the proper kind of spell infusion for that type of gem.
The heat was unbearable, to the point of being painful, but I welcomed that pain. I knew that heat was going to be an exit to sweet oblivion soon enough.
Or the closest thing there was to oblivion in this game. There sure as hell wasn't a giant glowing red gate in front of me leading to a cookie-cutter hellscape with boring samey monsters leading to a tower with a boring climb to the top.
"I know you think something’s going to come along and save you,” Torian said. "You think you're so clever, but you're not half as clever as you think. I’m going to torture you and your friends and make you learn why Horizon Dawn is the law around here.”
"Did you come up with that yourself, asshole?” I asked. “Sounds like the kind of stupid pseudo-clever bullshit you’d spew.”
"Fuck you,” Torian said.
"I like to think I'm a lot more clever than you, at least," I said. "Always have been, Trent."
Some might say it was a bad idea to keep antagonizing the guy beating the shit out of me, but it's not like there was some magical combination of words or actions that would suddenly make things better between the two of us.
I didn't want a magical combination of words that would make everything better between us. I hated this prick. Loathed him. The last thing I was going to do was try to make peace and sing kumbaya with him.
That earned Gregor a sharp glare from Trent.
“I think something’s wrong here,” he said.
He was squirming again, but this time it was from the heat and not because me infusing a gem with the wrong spell infusion felt an awful lot like I was trying to get a feel of his junk.
I grinned for the first time since the beatings started a few minutes ago as a peaceful clarity settled over me, for all that I was about to bite it.
Sometimes there were assholes in the world. Pricks who wanted to make the world around them miserable. And I was firmly of the opinion that if I met one of those assholes who wanted to make the world miserable, whether they were a soulless multinational conglomerate that killed my family or a bully working for that soulless multinational conglomerate, then I was well within my rights to do everything I could to shut them down.
"Hey Torian," I said. My voice was barely above a whisper. I wanted this prick to have to lean in to hear me. That would move him nice and close to the center of the impending explosion.
“Seriously Torian,” Gregor said, letting me go which caused me to fall to my knees.
I felt Gregor trying to move away from me. The one problem with that plan being that he’d been holding me against the back of the alley where they couldn’t disturb me, which meant he had nowhere to retreat to now.
"What?" Torian growled.
"Got any good gear on you?"
"What are you…"
Torian’s eyes went wide as he trailed off. As he finally seemed to realize there was something to Gregor’s warning as a blinding light filled the alley all around us.
He was too late, of course. I might've been stupid enough to let myself get caught in this beating, but I wasn't stupid enough to tip them off to what I was doing until it was too late.
"Nice knowing you," I said, trying to wink. It didn’t really work since one of my eyes was swollen shut.
"Get out! Get out of here!" Torian shouted, but of course it was too late.
I closed my eyes as the light became so bright and blinding that I could see it through my eyelids, and the heat seared through my hand and then my body as the magic broke free.
Oddly enough I didn't feel anything as the gem destroyed me. Well, I felt the pain in my throbbing stump of a finger disappear, presumably along with my body, but that was it.
Which made blowing myself up along with my enemies an overall pleasant experience on balance.
Still, that lack of pain was a damn shame. If I didn't feel anything as the gem overloaded and ripped me apart then it meant the assholes I’d blown up with my improvised explosive gem, both yesterday at the mines and today in this alley, hadn't felt anything either.
I was in a mood where I wanted them to feel it as they got blown to smithereens, but oh well. You couldn’t have everything.
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!