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“I guess we know where those assholes have been all this time,” Keia said.

My mouth compressed to a thin line. This wasn’t a question I wanted answered, and I could feel my mouth running ahead of my brain now that these assholes were in a place I’d thought was safe.

"Well if it isn’t the three stooges in the flesh.”

The three stooges wheeled around, and from the way their eyes narrowed they didn't care for the comparison. Or maybe they were pissed off at seeing me.

“Good one,” Keia muttered in party chat. “Piss them off in an enclosed space where your signature move will take us with them.”

“What’s up?” Kristoph asked.

“The three stooges are at Trelor’s Oddments,” Keia said.

“Like he’s playing both sides?” Kristoph growled into party chat. “The bastard! I knew he was too good to be true!”

“More like I think they’re trying to shake him down,” Keia said.

Kristoph laughed into the party chat line. “Good fucking luck to them with that.”

"You," Torian growled, finally breaking the angry silence that’d stretched between us. "What the hell are you doing here."

"Just stopping by for some magical supplies," I said. "Why? Are you going to keep me from merchants now to? I bet the goblins would have some interesting things to say about that. You remember the last conversation you had with them, right?”

Torian’s face went white at the memory, but that didn’t stop him from going right on trying to intimidate me. “I’ll keep you away from whatever the hell I want, and if that means…"

"If you'll excuse me," Trelor the Magnificent said.

His voice was quiet, but it carried through the room with no problem and even over the shouting. I wondered if that was because he could command a digital room with his natural presence like that, or if he had some special doohickey he was using to make his voice loud enough to carry over the shouting even though he was whispering.

"What do you want?" Torian snapped, turning to Trelor.

Torian still didn't realize Trelor wasn’t an NPC. He thought the wizard was a character put into the game world to add a little bit of flavor, and I guess I couldn’t fault him for that assumption.

Every other NPC we’d run into so far had been so damned realistic that an actual human masquerading as an NPC didn’t have any obvious giveaways.

"I rather think you're not going to dictate who can and can't come into my shop," Trelor said.

Torian leveled a finger at Trelor the Magnificent.

"You might think you'll get special treatment because you're human, but you’re still a useless NPC. If you keep this up I'm going to do to you the same I did to those damn goblins."

"Is that how you truly feel?" Trelor asked.

“Fuck yes!” Torian shouted, spittle flying from his mouth. “I’m a human and you’re a program put here to cater to my every whim. I don't care what you say. I know you have to know something about how to make those non-nerfed potions that got listed on the Auction House. Now tell me…"

"As I've already explained to you multiple times, I would appreciate it if you didn't take that tone with me," Trelor said.

"Damn NPCs," Torian spat. “I guess we have to teach the humans in this town a lesson about who runs things around here too!”

He pulled his sword out a couple of inches, and I smiled as the thought flitted across my mind that a couple of inches was probably about what he gave any ladies he’d met, but these couple of inches were clearly a threat.

"Are you sure that's how you want to do this?" Trelor asked, his voice barely above a whisper, though Torian didn’t seem to realize how much trouble he was potentially in.

“This is how I’ve been doing it since we got here and it’s worked pretty good on mouthy NPCs. Now I’m going to show you what it means to cross us," Torian said. "You're going to learn the same lesson the goblins did.”

"Um," Gregor said, no doubt noting the subtle glow that’d come to Trelor’s eyes. “Torian…”

"Shut up," he snapped.

Torian pulled his sword all the way out and pointed it at Trelor. Which seemed a little odd. Typically I figured if somebody wanted to give somebody the business with a sword then the accepted practice was to take that sword and put it inside a person. Or at the very least run the sharp end along the side of a person. The point was the person with the sword needed to somehow puncture their target’s flesh to let the stabbee know the stabber meant business.

"Would you please reduce this mouthy wizard to his component atomic parts," Torian demanded, glancing at Kravos.

Kravos looked nervous as well, but he also didn't seem to be in a mood to cross Torian. It was clear who was the head asshole in that merry trio of dumbasses. He held his hands up and wiggled his fingers just so. Frowned. Held his fingers and wiggled them just so again.

Frowned again.

The whole thing looked for all the world like the special features on an ancient Marvel movie. Watching Benedict Cumberbatch holding his hands up and wiggling them before any computer-generated effects had been put in place to make it look like the actor was actually doing magic was always pretty damn funny.

The before shots always looked ridiculous, and Kravos looked equally ridiculous waving his fingers around trying to look all magical.

“Don’t worry,” I said in what I hoped was a sympathetic tone, though it was hard considering I was also trying to hold back laughter. “I hear it happens to a lot of guys.”

“Shut up!” Torian snapped, then he turned back to Kravos. “What are you waiting for?"

"Um. I can't use my magic," Kravos said.

"What are you talking about?" Torian demanded. “You do this to goblins all the time! Hit him with some magic and kill him!”

"But…"

Torian made a disgusted noise that started in his gut and moved up to the back of his throat where it seemed to get caught as he tried to bring his sword down on Trelor. Only the sword got within a few inches of Trelor and stopped.

Torian tried to pull his sword away. He clearly yanked on it, his face turned a few different shades of red as he grunted with the effort.

“Sounds like he has a huge turd stuck inside that’s a little too big to make it out,” Keia said.

I snorted.

"Thank you," Trelor said.

Torian frowned. “Thank you? What are you thanking me for? What’s happening here? Stop this! Stop defending yourself with your magic and let me kill you!”

“Thank you for attacking me so I can do this,” Trelor said with a small smile and a wave. “Rules are rules, after all. Have a nice fall."

"What are you…"

A shimmering effect followed by a whine that’d be familiar to anyone who was a fan of the works of William Shatner surrounded Torian and his two partners in idiocy. I noted that Trelor was using the effect from the movies rather than the original series. A couple of vertical blue lines started at the center and moved out, and then the three of them were gone.

"Where did you send them?" Keia asked.

"Wait for it," Trelor said with a grin.

There was a brief pause where I wondered if Trelor had gone completely mad, then I heard it. The noise was faint at first. Like the buzzing of a fly or something. Only it grew in volume. There was a sort of odd Doppler effect too.

Which was actually a credit to the persnicketiness of the sound design team that they were able to so accurately recreate the strange Doppler shift of a person screaming as they rapidly hurtled towards the ground.

The sound, while impressive, didn't last long. It wasn’t long before the distant screaming got a hell of a lot closer, followed by three distinct thuds on the other side of the door to Trelor’s Oddments. Thuds that were so loud that they rattled the door.

“Holy shit,” Keia said. “Was that…”

"Go ahead," Trelor said, unable to hide his grin. “Open the door and have a look. You know you want to.”

I was almost afraid to go out there and have a look. I had a feeling the game had just rendered the deaths of three separate characters in loving but gory detail in much the same manner as every other death I’d witnessed.

But when I opened the door the game, once again, had my back. Or the blend of game mechanics and realism, rather, had my back. There were three chests waiting there, and I reached down and tapped each chest in turn, netting myself another bounty of Horizon gear.

I turned and grinned at Trelor. "Thanks for the loot!”

"Don't mention it," Trelor said with a wave of his hand. "Be sure to disenchant that stuff. I'm sure they've got some good gear on. The top Horizon pukes always have the good stuff."

“I’m not so sure about that,” I muttered.

The stuff I got from that alley I blew up hadn’t been anything I didn’t already have. Not to mention selling their stuff at a slight discount was only good for the satisfaction of knowing it pissed them off considering what I was making from potions and what I could potentially make when I finally got access to a forge and could start making weapons.

I set about checking to see if there was anything worth disenchanting regardless. For a surprise there were some very interesting spell infusions. Maybe the three stooges wore different gear when they were going around town intimidating poor unfortunate NPCs.

I got a buff that affected my encumbrance and would allow me to carry more stuff. That’d be useful considering encumbrance had already nearly gotten me killed once. There was also a spell infusion that allowed a character to be covered in a magical shield for a short duration. That came from Kravos’s robes.

"Damn,” I said.

“Good shit?” Kristoph asked.

“For a surprise there is some good shit in here,” I said. “Really good shit compared to what they were wearing the last time around.”

A knock on the door brought me out of thoughts of disenchanting.

“Think that’s them?” I asked.

“I don’t think they could get here from the graveyard that fast,” Keia said.

“Maybe they ran the whole way?” I said.

There was more pounding, followed by a familiar annoyed voice on the other end.

“Are you guys going to let me in? I have Torian and his asshole friends on my tail!”

I grinned and threw the door open. Kristoph quickly ducked inside and slammed the door shut behind him.

“I don’t know if I should be more or less freaked out that those pricks aren’t wearing anything,” he said. “Do you have any idea how weird it is getting chased by guys in their boxers?”

Keia giggled, and I couldn’t help but laugh too.

“In their boxers?”

“If someone doesn’t bother equipping a base layer of clothes that can happen,” Keia said. “I guess they didn’t think it was necessary while they were walking around town in their badass armor.”

“Originally the design people didn’t even want those boxers to be there,” Trelor said. “But they eventually put them in to avoid the higher rating that comes along with people randomly running around naked when they lose their shit.”

“But can’t people strip down if they want to?” I asked.

“Why are you asking?” Kristoph asked, waggling his eyebrows and looking between me and Keia.

“Shut up,” Keia said, smacking him on the shoulder.

“Big difference between people voluntarily stripping down in the safety of their private erotic roleplaying session and everyone in the game being forced to run around with their bits flapping in the breeze whenever they get offed,” Trelor said.

Our discussion of the finer points of in-game nudity was interrupted by a rattling at the door.

“Crap. They followed me here,” Kristoph said.

“I don’t think they were following you,” Keia said.

"If you'll excuse me for a moment please?" Trelor asked.

He walked over and made a gesture with his hand that pulled the door open. Standing on the other side were none other than Torian, Gregor, and Kravos, and they all looked really pissed off.

Though their pissed off demeanor was ruined ever so slightly by the fact that they were all standing in their underwear.

"What the hell did you do with our stuff?" Torian demanded.

I gave them a little wave. "Sorry! Finders keepers."

"You son of a bitch!" Torian spat. "I'm going to find you alone, and I swear that…"

Whatever inventive threat was about to pass his lips disappeared as the door slammed shut in his face.

"Sorry about that again," Trelor said. “This neighborhood is getting rough. It used to be so nice!”

Someone started pounding on the door so hard that the thing started to rattle. Trelor sighed and rolled his eyes.

"You'd think they’d learn the first time," he muttered under his breath. "But I suppose if they have to learn the same lesson more than once…"

He waved his hand and the knocking abruptly stopped.

"What did you do?" Kristoph asked.

“Wait for it,” Keia said, looking up.

The answer became apparent very quickly as we heard, once again, the sound of people falling from a great height screaming their lungs out.

Three thuds sounded on the other side of the door once more. Again the door rattled, though this time it bowed in. Maybe one of them had grazed the door on their way down.

"On the bright side, it doesn't hurt them all that much," Trelor said. "I don't think they actually threw someone off of a cliff and killed them to figure out what it feels like to fall and die like that, but I'm pretty sure the same thing happens to them as happens to anyone else. A long drop, a short stop, and it's all black from there because all your systems are being pulverized at the same time. They’re getting killed fast enough that the pain simulation doesn’t even have time to kick in.”

"That doesn't sound pleasant at all," Keia said.

"No, I'd imagine it isn't," Trelor said. “So here's hoping they learned their lesson that time, right?"

I resolved in that moment to never get on Trelor's bad side. Trelor suddenly seemed like the kind of person who, for all that he was a geeky coder type literally living in a videogame, wasn't to be fucked with.

All the more so because his position at Lotus clearly gave him the ability to use spells that were unavailable to others.

Or maybe he had access to spells that others would eventually discover, but the game was new enough that no one had figured them out yet. Either way, he was throwing around the kind of power I didn’t want to cross.

"Right," Trelor said, clapping his hands together. "So that's taken care of. Now what brings you to my humble shop today?”

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About the author

Daecrist

Bio: 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!

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