Rezzik moved back just a bit from the two goblins that’d gone from being our rescuers to their captors. The goblin looked up at us with apology in his eyes.
"I'd hoped we could avoid this," he said. "I know you've been helping. That you’re not like the others.”
Rezzik said that last bit quietly to himself. Like he was trying to convince himself it was true.
“You saved me twice now,” he whispered.
"Don't think anything of it," I said, trying to stay positive with the one goblin who appeared to still be our friend. "Besides. Going to meet your Chief might be a good thing."
"How could that possibly be a good thing?" Keia asked.
"You never know," Kristoph said. "Maybe Conlan here is into getting ripped apart limb from limb by a bunch of tiny little goblin creatures. Did you ever think of that? Bet you didn’t know what you were signing up for when you got with him.”
Kristoph did that eyebrow wiggling thing he did when he was making a joke that was in extremely poor taste. Meanwhile Keia shot Kristoph a dirty look.
"Well you never know!"
"Can it Kristoph," I said. "That's not what I'm thinking about at all. I mean I am thinking about getting torn apart by goblins, that hasn’t been far from my mind since we got trapped here, but that’s not what I was talking about.”
I pulled up the list of Spellcrafting abilities I’d gained. There were certain perks I could pick up along the way that opened up different subskill trees I could level the same as I leveled my skills. The more I used those subskills the more they leveled up, and if I leveled them enough then it gave me points on the main Spellcrafting line.
Sort of how Gathering:Herbs was a subset of gathering with one leveling up the other.
The one thing I kept returning to was the manufacturing subskill line. I could grant other people a small amount of my Spellcrafting mojo, and at higher skill levels I could even imbue equipment with the ability to do spell infusions. I wasn't quite there yet, but I figured it wouldn't take much longer before I could start to create equipment that would allow other people to do spell infusions on my behalf. All I’d have to do was get a big cache of weapons I could infuse and that would go a long way towards powerleveling me towards my end goal.
All I’d need to get that big cache of weapons was a spot to turn all this goblinsteel into weapons and armor. It’d be even better if I had a steady supply of goblinsteel and other crafting supplies, but I couldn’t be sure the goblins would have anything like that.
A bunch of goblins hiding in caves didn’t seem like a good place to find an abundance of crafting supplies, after all. And if they were in as much trouble as it seemed thanks to Horizon Dawn steamrolling them for the past month they’d probably really have a tough time helping me out.
I figured the best I could hope for was a forge, but that’d be good enough at this point.
Basically I needed to sit and grind up my crafting skills as fast as I could. I needed to sit and experiment with this stuff a bit and see what I could do. I had high hopes that I might be able to take care of that problem as well as the problem of finding people to use that equipment once I got that subskill unlocked. It all depended on how things went with the goblin thief.
At least I assumed the goblin chief was the highest authority in the goblin land right now since the goblin king appeared to be conveniently trapped under a raid dungeon where he was waiting for a bunch of humans to come along and kill his ass for some sweet loot.
Well if I had anything to say about it then the sweet loot being created underground was going to have nothing to do with stuff players got out of a raid instance.
"Why did you do it?" Rezzik asked.
“Do what?" I asked.
"Save me," the goblin asked, eyes darting towards the other two goblins who’d refused to let us go.
I got the impression this conversation was as much for the benefit of those two goblins who were clearly listening in as it was for Rezzik who was curious why he’d been saved.
I shrugged. "It was the right thing to do. Horizon Dawn has been treating your people like crap, and that's not right. So I intend to do something about it."
I wasn’t going to go into the whole story of why I’d sworn revenge on Horizon and anyone associated with them. That would involve a lot of explaining I didn’t want to get into with a goblin that had no idea it was part of a video game.
"That's it?" Rezzik asked. "You saved me because it was right? Not because you needed something?"
Kristoph barked out a laugh at that. "What kind of assholes do you think we are? Horizon people?"
"Not all of us are like those pricks,” I said. "In fact, I'm sworn to fight them wherever we go. And if they're trying to hurt people in your world then I'm going to stop them."
I stopped and thought about that for a moment. As vows of vengeance went it was a pretty good one, but it felt like there needed to be more to it. It felt like I needed to make it clear that there was more to my saving Rezzik than simply wanting to stop Horizon. Because if I was just saving the goblin because it stopped a bunch of assholes I didn't like from doing bad things then was that really much better? Did the motivation matter as long as the end result was the same?
I was doing too much philosophizing. I seemed to be doing more and more of that the more time I spent in this game. Especially where the goblins were concerned.
"Don't get me wrong," I said. "We would’ve saved you no matter what. But it's an added benefit that we get to save your ass and stop Horizon from getting what they want at the same time. Two birds with one stone and all that."
"I see," the goblin said, though his tone said he didn’t really see it at all.
I looked to the two goblins walking in front of us. More particularly I focused on the glowing stones they carried. I wondered how I could get a spell infused stone to do the same thing. Sure I’d figured out a way to get a stone to glow, but what I really needed was a way to get a stone to glow without immediately blowing up and giving me and everyone around me a very bad day.
"I know what you're doing Rezzik,” one of the goblins walking in front of us said. "And it's not working."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Rezzik said.
“Uh-huh. That story would be even more feel-good if I didn't recognize that girl from one of the mine clearing operations,” the other goblin said.
Keia hissed and made a motion with her hands that looked like she was about to pull out her bow. It didn't appear in her hands, though I knew it was in her inventory and could come out at a moment’s notice, but I understood the impulse. I wanted to let out a couple of curses myself. If that goblin recognized her then he might think all of us were actually in league with Horizon. That this was just a trick or something.
We needed to handle this very carefully. I started by reaching out and putting a hand on Keia’s arm. I pushed down until she wasn’t in a position to summon her bow, for all that she glared at me as I did it. I shook my head slightly.
Keia frowned. She didn’t like this, but she seemed willing to go along with me for the moment. Which was probably easy enough considering the alternative was to die down here in the darkness surrounded by all sorts of creepy stuff.
As though to reinforce that point, the ground rumbled under us ever so slightly. That could’ve been an earthquake, but then again it could’ve been something even scarier than game world plate tectonics lurking in the depths.
"She was part of Horizon once, yes," I said. "But did you know she's the one who fired the arrows that saved Rezzik the first time we met?"
Rezzik eyed her critically. Clearly he didn’t like the thought that she’d been a Horizon member at any point.
"She was?" he asked. “Why did you save me if you were one of them?”
"Because I hate them as much as you do," Keia said.
There was no heat to her voice. No emotion at all. It was just a simple, cold, unemotional statement of fact.
“I saw what they did to your people and I knew it was wrong. I tried to stop them, but they wouldn’t listen. I hate them and I'm going to kill all of them if I can,” she growled. “I’ll kick them out of this town once and for all. I hate everything they stand for, and anything that lets me get a little bit of revenge on them is just fine in my book.”
"We’ll see when we get to the Chief," one of the goblins said, his tone clearly saying he wasn't sure what our chances were, but if he were a betting goblin he wouldn't like our odds.
We settled into a final silence after that. I tried to enjoy the experience of walking through the underground caverns, though worrying about everything we had to do and what might happen when we got to this goblin chief made it difficult.
Still, I was experiencing the most immersive and graphically intense videogame ever created by humans. A game that was being pumped directly into my skull cavity via electrical impulses through my ear canal. And, at the end of the day, if we did wind up getting killed in these deep caverns then it would merely be an inconvenience. A heck of an inconvenience, to be sure, but still just a speed bump in the grand scheme of my scheming.
So I tried not to focus on the negative and instead focused on the feeling of moving deeper and deeper into the earth. Which bothered me a lot less in a video game than it would’ve if I were doing this in the real world. Not that I’d ever been out of the arcology to go near a real cave system. Not that there were many true cave systems out there that hadn’t been filled in to make stable platforms for the numerous arcologies that dotted the world.
This was nice. It reminded me of a world that hadn’t ever really truly existed, but there’d been a version of this underground world once. Walking through this version of it was a thrill.
I reached out and felt the walls to remind myself that I could. I listened to the subtle sound of things skittering off in the darkness, felt the occasional stab of terror as my hand occasionally moved across a dark opening that told me we were on the verge of an entrance to another passage or underground room, something that was just hinted at without actually being shown because the goblin guards escorting us through the place didn’t seem interested in shining their lights into that darkness.
I shivered whenever we passed one of those openings into darkness. It was a reminder that the game devs had put things in the depths below. I wondered what would happen if someone delved too greedily and too deep in a place like this. What if there was a dev with a fondness for Tolkien and a sense of humor who put a nasty demon monster down there as a surprise for wayward adventurers who hadn’t learned the lesson of the dwarves long after that advice was published?
If I was making a game like this then I sure as hell would’ve put something like that in there somewhere.
And there were those occasional rumbles that set the ground to vibrating that had me thinking maybe some dev had done exactly that. Maybe it was my imagination, but the deeper we went the more pronounced that rumbling seemed to get.
"What do you think is down there?" Kristoph asked, peering into the darkness and fingering his warhammer as though he was almost eager to go down into one of those dark holes and figure out what was lurking.
I had no doubt that Kristoph would have no issues about going down there and doing his best to smack whatever nasty thing was lurking down there over the head repeatedly with that hammer. And probably suffer his own painful demise in the process.
For all that Kristoph was fond of blaming me for his habit of dying painful deaths in the game, there was a point where he had to take responsibility for some of those deaths himself.
"Nothing good," I said. "Keep in mind we're in a series of caves that are presumably connected to a high level raiding instance at some point, even if Horizon Dawn isn’t good enough to find that connection.”
"So?" Kristoph asked. "What's your point?"
“My point is it's probably not a good idea to go knocking on the back door of all the eldritch horrors that live in that dungeon,” I said.
"Good idea," the goblin who’d called out Keia said. "Nasty things lurk in the dark. Even nastier things lurk in the deeps.”
I blinked. In the deeps? It already felt like we were well under the game world. If this goblin was hinting at depths that went beyond that then that was worth a shiver.
"And yet we’re walking right past the entrance like it’s nothing?” Kristoph asked. "What happens if one of those nasty things reaches into this hall and grabs you or something?"
The goblin shrugged. "Bad things, I would presume. Best not to think about that if you live down here.”
Kristoph rolled his eyes. "Fucking great," he said. "Not only are we stuck in a deep dark cavern where we’re probably going to get killed by a bunch of goblins once they get a chance to interrogate us, but there are also nasty horrible things lurking in the darkness that would love to grab us with their mind flaying tentacles and kill us.”
“That’s not the worst thing something with tentacles could do,” Keia muttered.
“Yeah, don’t want to run into a tentacle creature that wants senpai to teach it a few things,” I said, elbowing Kristoph in the ribs.
He glowered at me. Meanwhile the goblin shrugged a fatalistic shrug. The kind of shrug that said he was used to living in an environment where a very painful and unpleasant death could come at any moment.
"Don't wander so close to the shadows," it finally said, as though that was the simplest thing in the world.
“Best to listen to that advice,” Rezzik muttered, peering into the darkness behind us and shivering, then making that strange sign I’d seen him make that first day when we met in the forest.
"Right," Kristoph said, still fingering his hammer and looking behind us to where the latest hole in the wall had long since disappeared. "I'll keep that in mind."
"At least you have that hammer," the goblin said with a grin.
"Really?" Kristoph asked, standing a little taller and hefting the thing. "You think I’d be able to kick some ass with the thing?"
"No," the goblin said. "But whatever killed you would be able to use the handle on that thing to pick whatever bits of you got stuck in its teeth out."
The goblin threw its head back and cackled, and even Rezzik laughed just a little for all that he seemed more annoyed than anything by his companions. I couldn't help but let out a chuckle of my own. Keia broke into a giggling fit. It was a pretty good joke.
Kristoph didn't look the least bit amused at the goblin’s humor. Maybe he couldn't appreciate it because he was the butt of the joke or something.
Not that he had long to be the butt of the joke. No, all the laughter abruptly stopped as we stepped into a massive city-sized cavern that took my breath away.
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!