We made our way through the forest with the only sounds being that forest and the occasional curse from Kristoph as he sliced his arm, followed by the sound of Keia’s healing. We were a merry band of misfits loaded down with a ridiculous amount of goblinsteel ore that’d be worth a fortune if anyone came across us, killed us, and put our stuff up on the Auction House.
“I’m going to stuff a gem infused with the wrong spell in your mouth if you keep making noise like that,” I growled at Kristoph.
“Oh yeah? Well then I’m going to stick the business end of my hammer where the sun don’t shine,” Kristoph snapped right back at me.
“Come on boys,” Keia said. “I know we’re all on edge, but that’s no reason to make the job easier for the Horizon Dawn patrols.”
“His cursing every time he gets stuck is making the job easier for the Horizon Dawn patrols,” I said.
Kristoph opened his mouth, and from the furious look on his face he was about to lay into me. I was ready for it. Unfortunately Keia stepped between the two of us, and in an instant she was back in her leather and had daggers out and pointed at both of us.
“Come on boys,” she said. “There’s no need for our merry band of misfits to do Horizon Dawn’s job for them.”
I glared at Kristoph for the space of a breath before I started to laugh. A moment later he was laughing right along with me. He put a beefy hand on Keia’s shoulder.
“What the hell is so funny?” she asked, looking between the two of us like we’d lost our minds.
“Kristoph and I griping at each other is nothing new,” I said. “Sorry if it freaked you out.”
“Freaked me out?” she said. “The two of you looked like you were gonna kill each other!”
“Wouldn’t be the first time an argument led to a little player killing,” I said with a shrug.
“It’s therapeutic,” Kristoph said.
She continued staring at us like we were nuts. Then she rolled her eyes and muttered something under her breath that sounded like something about men being crazy or something.
“If you could please refrain from trying to kill each other while we’re in enemy territory?” she said. “Again. No point in doing the enemy’s job for them.”
She glared daggers at the two of us. A glare that was helped by the very real daggers she was holding up to either of us.
“Sorry,” we muttered at the same time.
And with that our merry band of misfits continued off towards the goblin mine. Kristoph hit me with a glance with his eyes going wide as he looked down at Keia. I gave an imperceptible shrug. Girls could be crazy sometimes.
“I saw that,” she said.
Both of us moved our eyes forward like we’d been caught by a teacher.
A motley group we made, at that. A leader whose only skills were in Gathering and Spellcrafting which wouldn't do a damn bit of good in a fight. At least not a close quarters fight. At least not in a close quarters fight we’d survive.
I did have plenty of water gems on me that I could infuse with fire to create an unfriendly surprise for anyone who took us on at a distance. That hadn’t been an idle threat for Kristoph.
And an unprepared leader was the least of our craziness. The healer was more of a stealth archer since that’s what she'd been pushed into when she started the game. And Kristoph was… Well he was just Kristoph. He played the same thing he did in every game. A big beefy slab of meat who didn't have to do any of the thinking. No, he just waited for me to point him at something and then he did his best to make sure that whatever he was pointed at didn't survive for very long.
There were times when I envied Kristoph his way of playing games. There was something simple and pure about it. Of course that play style would’ve bored me out of my mind if I ever took on a tanking role, and so I was glad Kristoph had always been willing to fill that meat shield niche.
Yeah, with this group even being out here was a gamble, but I figured it was a worthwhile gamble. If I could turn that goblinsteel ore into goblinsteel weapons and goblinsteel armor then I’d be even richer.
Besides, I still had plenty of goblinsteel ore waiting in my vault back in town as insurance in case this expedition went pear shaped. I had high hopes that I might find even more ore to mine on this trip. Assuming the respawn timer was in my favor and Horizon Dawn hadn’t cleared out whatever mine we wound up in.
Keia held up a hand and snapped me out of my reverie and thoughts of all the stuff I was going to buy with my money if this worked. I looked around the forest and saw another one of those little red flowers with the yellow veins running through it. I reached out and picked the thing. I needed to figure out what this thing could be turned into, alchemically speaking, but I’d been so busy creating and selling all the Nhewb’s Blessing potions and dealing with my sudden windfall that I hadn't had time to sit down and figure out what made this flower tick.
“Seriously?” Keia hissed. “I tell you to pay attention and you’re picking flowers?”
“I know, right?” Kristoph said.
“What?” I asked.
"I hear something," she said. "It sounds like fighting."
My eyes narrowed and my hands opened and closed a couple of times before closing into fists. Fists that became a white knuckled grip that was borderline painful until that pain wore off.
"We should probably move to go around whatever it is,” Keia said, ignorant to my fist situation. "If there's fighting then…"
"We need to go have a look," I said.
"That's actually the exact opposite of what I was about to say," Keia said. "If there are people fighting out here then why would we want to go near it? I can't heal all that well, Kristoph is still new for all that he's tricked out in your gear, and you…"
She let that hang. The meaning was clear enough. She said it with a smile that took away some of the sting, but I was well aware that I contributed mostly brains and gear to this group.
Which was something I really needed to work on, but there was no time to go sacrifice some cute and cuddly low level rabbits on the altar of getting some skill points. We were in the situation we were in, and I was going to have to make the best of it.
"Think about it," I said. "If we hear fighting out there that means it's a Horizon Dawn patrol fighting somebody."
"Which means they’re not fighting us," Keia said. “As long as the local patrol is attacking someone else they’re not our problem.”
"Except it is," I said. “Those assholes are either killing a bunch of goblins who don't deserve it, or killing a bunch of player characters they’re bullying around. Either way, we can't let them do that!"
Keia sighed and rolled her eyes. "What part of “nasty fight up ahead” do you not understand? If it's one of their patrols then they could kill us just as easily as they could kill whoever we're going to try and fail to rescue. The only thing we’ll accomplish by trying to come to the rescue is adding more bodies to the ground and one hell of a windfall to their inventory.”
“We need to at least go and get a closer look,” I said. "The opposite is true, too. If they’re fighting someone then that means the fight could also potentially be turned against them and in our favor if we add our numbers to whoever’s getting ganked. You see a bunch of people they’re going to kill, but I see someone who could reinforce us in a fight against the bastards.”
"And then Horizon Dawn knows we're out here," Keia pointed out.
I sighed. "Fine. I'm going to go take a look on my own."
"Now wait just one damn minute…"
Kristoph shrugged and turned to follow me. He'd been on enough of these crazy adventures to know when it was best to go with the flow and see where the adventure took us.
I knew I was taking a risk here, maybe even a monumentally stupid and unnecessary risk, but then again this seemed like the kind of time to take risks. And that tingling feeling was back running along my scalp. I couldn't help but think that if Keia heard combat in the distance then it was the sound of an opportunity.
Keia sighed behind us, though it was really more of a combination growl and sigh.
"You're going the wrong damn way," she said.
"What?" I asked.
"You're going the wrong way," she said. "You want to go off in that direction."
She nodded in a direction that was slightly to the side of where I’d been heading. I eyed her for a moment and she smiled. Blew me a kiss. She knew exactly what I was thinking. I couldn’t hear the combat at this distance. She could be pointing us in the wrong direction. Sending us away from the combat she clearly wanted to avoid.
Only I didn’t think she’d do that. I was going to have to trust her. Just like I’d trusted her with my secret identity and the fact that I was suddenly loaded. In-game, at least.
I sighed and shook my head.
"Going to trust you on this one," I said.
"I guess you're going to have to wait and see if that's a good idea or not," she said with a wink.
We moved through the forest as quietly as we could. Though honestly I wasn't all that worried about making too much noise. Not when the people we were sneaking up on were in the middle of a fight. I figured they were probably too busy dealing with the terror of close combat to worry overly much about whether or not someone was sneaking up on them, let alone hear someone sneaking up on them even if they were worried about it in the heat of combat.
Soon enough we got close enough that even I could hear the combat going down. When we got close enough that I could see what was happening my blood boiled.
A group of Horizon Dawn people were gathered at one end of a clearing. A group of goblins were at the other end of the clearing with their backs up against a sheer rock wall that thrust out of the forest floor. The Horizon assholes jeered at the goblins who had swords out. The goblins looked terrified. As though they’d been fighting for their lives.
A couple of dead goblins on the ground in the middle of the clearing with blood pooled around their bodies showed that fight wasn’t going in the goblins favor. A couple of Horizon Dawn people in noob Horizon Dawn gear stood over those goblin bodies with weapons drawn.
"Bastards," I said, reacting on instinct.
I didn't pull out a fireball or a sword or a bow and arrow or anything like that. All I had was my crafting ability, and a group of obliging enemies standing close enough to each other and far enough from the goblins for this to work.
I pulled out a water gem and infused it with fire. My mana drained and the gem was glowing before I had time to truly think about what I was doing or how stupid it was.
"Shit," Kristoph said, loud enough that it could be heard in the clearing.
The goblins turned their heads first, no doubt wondering if there was fresh trouble heading their way, and then the Horizon Dawn pricks turned in the direction the goblins were looking.
"Damn it," Keia hissed. "What are you…"
Her eyes went wide as I held up the water gem infused with the fire spell. She'd seen the aftermath of that often enough that she knew exactly what was happening.
“Throw it!" she shouted, apparently not even caring that the Horizon people might overhear her now that she was in close proximity to a crafting gem with dangerously explosive fail state.
I did what the pretty girl asked. I might not have jack shit in terms of actual combat abilities, but I’d gotten pretty good at doing an underhanded grenade toss with these gems. The thing landed in the middle of the Horizon Dawn patrol at the far end of the clearing, but this time their reaction was way different from the last time this happened.
Presumably the one who shouted was someone who’d been in the last unfortunate group to be destroyed by one of my gems. Their eyes went wide with the sort of look that said they weren’t sure whether they should try to run from the inevitable or soil their armor.
Idly I wondered if there’d come a time when the developers decided to patch out my weaponization of the Spellcrafting fail state, but for now it was working and that was all that mattered for today’s combat.
In the end it didn't matter that one of the assholes out there knew what was going on. There was no way they could get away in time. I’d waited long enough before tossing the gem that no amount of running would save them from getting blown to tiny little bits.
The goblins, at least, seemed to realize there was something going down, and if one of the Horizon Dawn people was yelling to get down then it’d be a good idea for any AI with a reasonable facsimile of intelligence to also hit the ground.
They hit the deck and covered their heads, looking for all the world like the goblin equivalent of a bunch of troops in an old World War II movie or something. Which would've been kind of comical if it wasn't immediately followed by Keia yanking me down as a small crater was created in the forest floor that sent bits of Horizon Dawn bodies going every which way.
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!