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The explosion rocked the clearing with a loud bang. Something went whizzing through the air over my head and landed with a loud thunk. I turned in that direction and saw a chunk of armor stuck to a tree.

If Keia hadn’t pulled me down then that armor would’ve hit me. That looked like it really would’ve hurt. Assuming it didn’t knock me out.

She looked at me with an “I told you so” expression.

“I never said anything,” I said.

“You were thinking annoyed thoughts when I yanked you down,” she said with a smile.

“I might just be guilty as charged on that one,” I said.

More stuff plinked down. It sounded like when hail hit the big windows that ran along the length of our level in the arcology, but then stuff started landing with a smack. I looked at something that slammed into a tree next to us and felt sick as I realized I was looking at chunks of Horizon Dawn assholes.

“That’s disgusting,” Kristoph said, appearing through the underbrush down on his belly.

“You’ll get no disagreement from me on that,” I said.

“They had it coming,” Keia said.

“You’ll also get no disagreement from me on that,” I said.

“Let’s get a look at what damage we just did,” Keia said. “Stay frosty. We might have to take out stragglers.”

I had a feeling she’d be taking out most of the stragglers, but it was nice of her to act like we were doing something here. Well, doing something above and beyond that explosion.

Though as I got up to my feet it became obvious I’d done all the heavy lifting and there’d be no need for mopping up.

The explosion had knocked out the main group standing in a huddle and watching the noobs. Which made sense considering I’d tossed the gem right in the middle of them. I wondered how long it’d be before they realized it wasn't a good idea to continue standing grouped together like that while they were on patrol.

I wasn’t knocking it that they were still obliging me by creating a convenient target, but I also knew that even idiots like Horizon Dawn weren’t likely to keep that up forever.

The other two, the ones who'd been standing between the two groups looking like a bunch of kittens learning how to hunt while the mama cats watched, which I figured was probably what was going on here, looked really confused. Though the concussion from the exploding gem might’ve had something to do with that confusion.

My stomach was already turning from the results of the explosion, but seeing what these pricks had been doing before they got blown up was enough to make me want to puke up my guts.

This wasn’t even a fight. No, we’d stumbled across a group of higher skilled guild members watching the lower skilled guild members doing their worst to the goblins and building up their skills in the process. That filled me with a rage that made me glad I’d just blown the assholes up.

The assholes doing the attacking were still alive. Dazed, but still alive. I was about to palm another gem when revenge was taken out of my hands.

"Fuck Horizon!" Kristoph bellowed, barreling out of the underbrush and towards the surviving Horizon people with his two-handed warhammer raised high.

The goblins looked at him in terror, but that terror only lasted for as long as it took for Kristoph’s hammer to come down on the head of one of the Horizon Dawn people who was just starting to blink and look around with something other than a dazed look.

The hammer slammed into the asshole’s head and it squashed like a watermelon. I winced. That was gratuitously violent, but about par for the course compared to all the other gratuitously violent stuff I’d seen since starting this game.

That shit was bound to give someone PTSD at some point as realistic as it all was.

"Gross," I said.

The second Horizon noob managed to pull their sword out and slammed it down on Kristoph’s hammer as he whirled it around and targeted them, but the sheer momentum of the two-handed warhammer was far greater than any stopping power the sword could provide. The Horizon prick took a hit to the shoulder which sent him spinning around. But not before he managed to get a shot at Kristoph’s shoulder which caused the big guy to bellow as one hand dropped the warhammer.

That might’ve put a cramp in the fight, but that shot to his shoulder was enough to enrage him. A red glow surrounded him, looking for all the world like a character charging up in an anime or something, and he wheeled that warhammer, usually designed for two-handed use, around with his working hand and slammed it into the Horizon noob a second and a third time, until their body started to decompose and disappear in midair where they stood rather than falling to the ground and decomposing like one might expect.

A glow sparkled across Kristoph’s shoulder knitting up the wound there as he stared around the clearing with murder in his eyes. I guess all that practicing he and Keia had been doing with those daggers paid off.

I walked up and touched Kristoph on the shoulder, and almost had my head taken off as Kristoph wheeled around and stopped just short of slamming the hammer into my head.

"Easy there,” I said. "I'm pretty sure you got’em.”

Kristoph stood there for a moment looking like a vengeful mountain of a God brought to life, his shoulders heaving, then he laughed and let his hammer drop. His face split into a grin as he looked down at the damage he’d caused.

"I guess I did get them, didn't I?"

"You should probably start gathering those chests," I said. "I'm not sure where their respawn point is out here, but it's probably close enough that they can get here pretty quick."

"It's over at the entrance to the raid dungeon quarry,” Keia said. “The respawn point is supposed to be surrounded by nasty monsters since, y’know, it’s supposed to be a raid instance, but they cleared out the area so thoroughly that they can safely respawn there to their heart’s content.”

"Right," I said. "All the more reason to get the hell out of here while the getting's good. They’re gonna raise the alarm and bring a world of hurt down on us.”

"You've convinced me," Kristoph said.

“Told you this was a bad idea,” Keia said.

“Was it?” I said, jerking my head towards the sheer rock wall.

Keia looked to the goblins who still cowered against the wall. I wondered why they were cowering, but then it hit me exactly what was going on. They saw humans and they thought we were there to kill them just the same as those Horizon Dawn sons of bitches.

Which, given the experience the poor things had no doubt had ever since Horizon Dawn came into their world, made a sad and twisted sort of sense. Player characters appearing had upended the world as they knew it even if that world had only technically come into existence a couple of months ago. From the goblins’ point of view, their world had been a going concern for eternity and now a bunch of strangers were coming along to screw it up.

So it was only natural they’d be a little timorous around more obvious player character humans. They had no way of knowing we weren’t like the Horizon Dawn assholes.

"We're here to help," I said. "We need to get out of here. Those assholes are going to be back, and they’ll have reinforcements.”

The goblins stared at the three of us. Then looked to each other. They said a few short words in a language I couldn't quite follow.

Finally the goblins turned to us. One of them stepped forward from behind two that’d been between it and the Horizon people, then between it and me. The goblin looked up at me, then to Kristoph. The thing smiled.

"You!" it said.

"Yes, me," I said, feeling a bit confused about the whole situation. "What do…"

Then something struck me about the goblin. Or rather the goblin struck me. It leapt at me in something I thought was an attack at first, but it's not like I had any way to defend myself even if I was under attack. Then tiny arms wrapped around me and I realized the motion was something that felt familiar in addition to the goblin looking familiar. It pulled back and grinned up at me after it’d finished using me as an improvised jungle gym.

"You!" I said. “Kristoph! It’s Rezzik! The goblin we saved the first day we were in the game!”

“I seem to recall I was the one who did most of the saving,” Keia muttered.

"No shit?" Kristoph asked.

"No shit!" I said. "I'd recognize that hug anywhere! Too many claws attached to it. How have you been?"

It struck me just how ridiculous it was to be talking to a goblin like we were old friends or something. After all, we’d only met the one time, and the thing had been fleeing in terror from a bunch of Horizon Dawn assholes chasing after it. Not exactly the kind of situation that was good for sitting down and having a chat or getting to know someone.

Though I figured that also meant this was the second time we’d saved this particular goblin from a bunch of Horizon Dawn assholes chasing after it, and this time around I was the one who’d done the saving instead of sitting back and letting Keia do all the real work then somehow getting the faction bonus at the end.

The thing looked up at me and grinned. "You saved me! You saved me again!"

I blinked at that, and then felt a little weird. After all, what was I expecting? Broken English from the thing?

I figured that was yet another example of vicious stereotypes about goblins that I was unconsciously perpetuating. Then I thought about how ridiculous it was that I was getting upset with myself for stereotyping a fictional creature.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to play along with the fictional creature. Not when these fictional creatures had saved my bacon more than once since that first rescue on our first day.

Not to mention the more time I spent around these NPCs the more I was starting to think of them as living and breathing creatures and not as code meant to look like living and breathing creatures.

I really had to ask Trelor how intelligent the artificial intelligences in this game actually were.

"I guess we did save you," I said. "So you're welcome?"

"Come with us," the goblin said, looking to its two companions.

Rezzik’s companions looked less than pleased at the idea of bringing a couple of humans along with them wherever they were going. Not that I could blame them. No, if they'd had a bunch of humans doing nothing but trying to kill them then it made sense that they’d be hesitant and a little gun shy about inviting three more humans to join them on a retreat from Horizon held territory. Even though they were fantasy creatures in a fantasy computer game who had no idea what guns were.

Though I found myself wondering if there was a way I could make long range firearms happen with the clever application of some Spellcrafting. I’d already figured out a way to craft grenades in this world, after all. Though I figured the jury was still out on whether or not that was something that would be taken out in a future patch once the devs realized what I was doing.

Then again if Trelor was there to stop them from patching it out, just like he’d gone to bat for the potions I’d made, who knew what was possible?

"We were actually on our way to one of the mines," I said. “I don’t suppose you three were headed in that direction?”

That elicited hisses from the goblins traveling with Rezzik. This time they looked openly hostile and reached for the weapons they'd lowered when it became clear we weren't going to try and kill them.

It seemed they changed their minds about our intentions once I made it clear we were going to the mines. Given the number of goblins who’d been slaughtered at those mines I couldn’t blame them.

I held my hands up, though I was well aware that holding my hands up wasn’t going to do a damn bit of good to stop them if they decided they were going to rough us up.

All I could do was hope Kristoph and Keia would be able to stop them before they got too far into turning me into a living pincushion.

“I promise you we’re not going there to kill goblins. We need access to a forge,” I said. "Horizon Dawn won't let us use the one in town and I really need access to crafting facilities. The ones in the ring mines were the only others in the area that came to mind.”

The two heavily armed goblins exchanged glances. There was something to those glances that had a glimmer of hope rising in me. Like they knew something and didn’t want to let it on to the humans.

“Do you have access to a forge? It doesn’t even have to be in the mines. It’d actually be better if it wasn’t in the mines so we don’t have to worry about a Horizon Dawn patrol taking us out while I’m in the middle of crafting some expensive shit.”

Maybe they had a forge, and maybe they didn’t. At the very least I figured it didn’t hurt to make conversation that avoided the subject of the mines. A conversation about crafting was a conversation that wouldn't potentially result in me getting poked and prodded by some very nasty looking goblin swords.

Those things might be comically undersized, built to fit goblin sized hands, but I figured that wouldn't make them hurt any less once they were forcefully introduced to my internal organs.

A comically undersized goblin sword, after all, was about the size of a nice big kitchen knife, the weapon of choice of crazed slashers since time immemorial in horror movies. Not to mention I’d seen the results when the goblins went to work on Torion.

"Come with us," Rezzik said, glaring at the other two like he was challenging them to say something. "We can help you. I promise! I’ll pay you back."

The two as yet unnamed goblins stared blankly at me. I was a little worried. These goblins looked like they had no love for humans. They seemed like they’d be more than happy to poke us with their weapons given half a chance. Whatever mojo I’d worked with the goblin guards in town clearly didn’t extend to whatever faction they were part of.

It was the sound of someone, or rather a large party of someones, crashing through the woods that decided things. I looked to Keia and Kristoph. Their eyes went wide. Whoever was crashing through the woods, they were close enough for me and Kristoph to hear.

That meant we were all in potentially deep shit. Goblin and human alike.

"Whoever we just killed must’ve told another patrol we were out here," Keia said. "We need to go. Now."

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A note from Daecrist

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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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