“Visiting the Auction House is one thing, but this is just tempting fate and asking for trouble,” Kristoph said.
“Come on,” Keia said, some daggers appearing in her hands. “You don't want to have a little fun with Horizon Dawn?”
Kristoph looked at the group surrounding the forge. I'm sure he was thinking about all the scuffles we'd been in and weighing our chances of survival against the group hanging out there.
“Yeah, y’all can have this one,” he said. “You're gonna walk over there, that group that's casually hanging out trying to look like they're not watching the place while they totally have it under surveillance is gonna do the human shield thing, and before you know it we're in another fight that ends with us barely scraping by or getting tortured. No thanks. I'm sitting this one out.”
“You're probably right,” I said. “But I have to get access to a forge somehow, and this is the only one in town for some reason.”
“Your digital funeral,” Kristoph said. “I'm gonna go hang out where there are lots of goblin guards to make sure Horizon Dawn doesn't try anything.”
“He might have a point,” Keia said, eyeing the crowd of Horizon Dawn tabards gathered around the forge but not actually using the thing.
“He does have a point,” I said, stepping out of our little hidey-hole around a corner and walking with more confidence than I felt towards the forge. “At least the three stooges aren't out there right now. Looks like a bunch of underlings pulling shit stakeout duty.”
“They're also standing in a nice group,” Keia said in a singsong voice.
I grimaced. I'd explained to her why I wasn't going to overload a gem in the middle of town, but if anything that only made her more eager to offer that up as a solution. I wasn't sure if she was having a little fun, or if she really thought blowing up a bunch of innocent goblins and players was worth it to take out some Horizon people.
So I kept walking towards the inevitable confrontation Kristoph had predicted that couldn't end with my usual explodey solution because of the collateral damage risk.
I felt like I was a glutton for punishment. That was the only explanation I could come up with for why I’d decided to make a quick stop by the forge on the way to to Trelor’s Oddments.
I'd felt compelled to go over there and see whether or not Horizon Dawn was still keeping an eye on things to keep me away from the one bit of crafting I had yet to really explore and exploit. Unfortunately there were plenty of Horizon Dawn stooges waiting for us, they were hard to miss in those Horizon tabards, and one of them immediately got the far-off look in her eyes that said she was talking to someone via private messaging or group chat.
I swore a couple of times.
“So much for the three stooges not making an appearance,” I growled.
"I don't know what you were expecting," Keia said.
"That they’d get lazy about guarding the forge the same as they're lazy about everything else?"
"Yeah, that might've been possible once upon a time. Back before you personally pissed off Torian and he found out who you were in real life," she said. "Something tells me he's not going to be all that happy you stole me away from him."
I turned to her and arched an eyebrow. Smiled. "Really now? I stole you away from him?"
"Well I don't know if I’d call it that," Keia said with a wicked and mischievous smile.
My face fell. I'd thought we had a good thing going here, but her words made me think maybe she wasn't feeling the same way. Had I completely misunderstood what was going on here? It seemed impossible to misinterpret all the face sucking we'd been doing.
"Oh my God," she said with a roll of her eyes. "I can't believe you. It's like you've never flirted with a girl before."
"Not often," I said, not wanting to reveal that my flirtation experience with the fairer sex had mostly been confined to an ill advised dance in the seventh grade when Chris, in his infinite wisdom, had tried had set me up with Debra Thomas.
Debra had been a nice enough girl. The only problem was I had no interest in her, and Chris hadn't listened to my many protests. So I ended up with a girlfriend whether I wanted her or not.
Our “relationship” had lasted for several months of us not talking in that special awkward way that only a couple of seventh graders discovering the pitfalls of dating for the first time could, until I'd finally broken it off with her in a conversation by her locker that was every bit as awkward as the circumstances that brought us together in the first place.
Even then I’d been sort of insulted by the relieved look on her face when I told her we were through.
This experience with Keia was nothing like that, and I had no intention of letting her know about that past experience if she hadn't heard it through the school rumor mill at the time. Honestly I'd been so focused on my quest for vengeance that I hadn't had any time for romance, but now that it had come looking for me I wasn't going to knock it.
"I was kidding," Keia said. “So don't look all freaked out.”
"You were?" I asked.
"Of course I was," she said. "I was never Trent’s to begin with, so you couldn’t steal me away.”
“That's a good point,” I said.
“Of course that's not gonna stop him from thinking you stole me and trying to make your life miserable,” she said.
“Like he needed an excuse,” I said with a laugh that didn't contain much humor.
No, the only thought of Torian that brought a real smile to my face was the memory of the look on his face in that alley when he realized he wasn't as in control of the situation as he'd thought.
“As far as excuses for him to beat you up go, getting the girl seems like a good one,” Keia said with a twinkle in her eye.
“You're just full of good points today, y’know that?” I said, smiling right back at her.
“I'm always full of good points. But seriously. I'm glad you're here and I’ve really enjoyed the time we’re spending together.”
I gave her the old side eye. “You sure you aren't just using me to piss Trent off?”
“I mean that's a bonus, but it's mostly you. Like we're easily talking ninety to ten you versus pissing off Trent.”
“I can respect that,” I said, then grinned. “You know, that also gives me an idea.”
Anything she was about to say was lost in a squeal as I took her in my arms and twirled her around. I dipped her down like we were in a classic Hollywood movie or something and planted my lips firmly on hers.
Which had the effect of giving one hell of a show to all the Horizon Dawn people who’d quickly gathered around the forge to create that damned human shield again. The angry muttering that came from them, coupled with some angry glances, was more than worth the trouble of not being able to use that forge, I figured. Especially since I figured a few of them had to be saving the video from our mini makeout session and sending it to Torian.
My only regret was I wouldn't get to see the look on his face when he saw that video. It was the first time I'd ever wanted him to be around. Where the hell were those chuckleheads?
I pulled her up and broke the kiss. She had a flush to her face and was breathing just a little heavily. She reached up and pulled a strand of hair away from her face. Damn she was beautiful.
I'd always thought she was beautiful as a human in the real world, but I had to admit that the whole elf thing certainly added a little something to her natural allure.
"What was that for?" she asked.
"Because it looked like you wanted me to, and because I figure it’ll really piss off Trent when word and screenshots and stream saves get back to him," I said. "I figure it's the least we owe him for all the trouble he's been causing us, right?"
"Admit it,” she said with a wink. "You just wanted to make him jealous. Now who's using someone in their devious revenge plan?"
"That's totally it," I said, and laughed when she blinked and looked indignant. I reached out and took her hand. “Just giving you a little taste of your own medicine. Now come on. We should go talk to Trelor. He might be able to point me to a forge and answer my questions about those potions."
"Right," she said, glancing back at the human shield of Horizon people that’d formed around the forge. “What about those assholes? You sure you don't want to lob a failed spell infusion at’em?”
“I'm not sure, and that's why we need to get out of here before I give into temptation, I said.
"Hey man," Kristoph said into party chat. “You done fucking around at the forge or what?"
I peered around the circle looking for Kristoph, but he was nowhere to be seen.
"Me and Keia are heading over to Trelor’s Oddments now," I said. “Where are you?”
“What is it?” I said with a sigh.
“I kinda let some Horizon Dawn people herd me away from the circle,” he said. “They're just walking behind me right now, but more of’em keep appearing down any escape route I try. I feel like whatever they're herding me towards ain't good.”
“Great job,” Keia said, rolling her eyes.
“I don't suppose you have one of those plans to save my ass kicking around?”
“Working on it,” I said, though I had no idea how I was going to save his ass from here.
I looked around the circle, and my eyes landed on one of the goblin guards walking by. The goblin looked up at me, gave me a wink, and sketched a small bow.
“Are there any guards around?” I asked.
“A few,” Kristoph said.
I walked over to the guard and got down on my knee. Which, rather than annoying the guard, earned me another respectful nod. I wondered if any other full-sized humans had ever bothered to get down on their level to talk to the goblins.
"How can I help you today Conlan?” the goblin asked.
Holy shit. Talk about surprises piling on top of surprises. "You know my name?"
"Of course," the goblin said. "How can I help?"
"Well you're certainly moving up in the world," Keia said.
"Whatever," I said, then turned back to the goblin. "I have a friend who's maybe in some trouble.”
"The big one who got in trouble with Horizon Dawn a few days ago?" the goblin asked. “He seems to get in trouble with them a lot. You might want to advise him to stop doing that.”
I decided I wasn't even going to be surprised that not only did the goblin know my name, but also knew about my friends and was aware of the incident a couple of days ago. I got the feeling these guys gossiped quite a bit.
"The same one," I said. “And believe you me, I’ve tried. Would it be possible for you to maybe help him make it to Trelor’s Oddments in one piece? He has an unfortunate habit of running into Horizon Dawn people. More specifically he has a habit of running into their swords."
"Consider it done," the goblin said, again sketching one of those little bows.
I was starting to get the impression that maybe those bows weren’t as sarcastic as I’d initially thought when they first started doing them, but I wasn't going to knock it.
Especially after I’d seen how nasty they could be if someone happened to get on their bad side.
The goblin scampered off to talk to other guards. Meanwhile I started walking towards the Magic District.
“Follow the goblin guards,” I said in party chat.
“Seriously?” Kristoph asked. “That’s your plan? Stick close to the… Holy fucking shit!”
“What?” I asked, worried that something might be happening to him before the guards could get in place.
“There were a couple of Horizon Dawn people doing a piss poor job of hiding in the shadows in an alley, and they just fucking disappeared!”
I grinned. “Yeah, like I said. Stick close to the guards and make your way to the Magic District. I think you’re gonna be fine.”
“Those assholes in that alley aren’t gonna be fine from the way they’re screa… No wait. Screams just got cut off. It’s like a fucking slasher movie from the 1980s or something!”
“Yeah, but in this case the slasher is on your side,” I said. “I’ll see you at Trelor’s Oddments.”
“Got it,” Kristoph said. “But if I hear any ch-ch-ch or someone running knife hands along a wall I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
I shook my head, but at least that was one problem taken care of. I was pretty sure Kristoph was going to arrive in one piece thanks to some accommodating guards and a hell of a lot of pent up rage and frustration at how Horizon Dawn had been treating them.
"How did you do that?" Keia asked.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I mean I've never seen them act like that with anyone. They mostly seem to hate anyone who moved in on their territory, and that's been everyone since the game launched.”
I shrugged. "Did you ever stop to consider that everyone you know who's been moving through their territory has been doing their best to try and kill them? Maybe that's the difference."
"Maybe you have a point there," Keia said. “Horizon Dawn didn’t ask them what they thought about having their town taken over.”
"Of course I have a point," I said with a grin. "Those assholes are always pushing players around. I bet they’d try to push around someone who worked for Lotus if they could. I mean…"
Keia grabbed my arm. I blinked as I realized we were in front of Trelor’s Oddments. I’d been so lost in conversation that I hadn’t even noticed. Keia pushed the door open and I forgot whatever I’d been about to say. Because no sooner had the “Horizon Dawn pushes around Lotus” thought occurred to me than I saw exactly that scenario playing out in front of me.
I couldn't believe it.
"I'm so sorry sir,” Trelor the Magnificent said with a shrug and a tone that said he wasn’t all that sorry. “But I’m unable to provide you with the information you’ve requested.”
There was something different about the way he acted when he was playing the part of a wizard NPC. At least I assumed he wasn’t letting on that he was who he was. Not to anyone wearing a Horizon Dawn tabard, at least, and definitely not when the assholes in those tabards were Torian, Gregor, and Kravos.
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!