I’d heard of fantasy authors with a little more imagination than practicality talking about entire cities being built into the side of massive caves. I’d always thought that seemed just a touch ridiculous considering some of the engineering considerations that would go along with digging an entire city out of a cavern.
Only this was a video game. The kind of place where things were cobbled together out of ones and zeros. The kind of place where if a developer wished it to be so then it was merely a matter of coding it and then getting the art monkeys to put together something together that the code monkeys could hang on all the ones and zeros they'd put together for their digital playground.
And the playground they’d put together in this instance was nothing short of breathtaking.
"Holy shit," Kristoph breathed.
I looked to Keia. I figured if there was anyone in our group who might be a little nonplussed by the whole thing it’d be her. After all, she'd been through the various mines worked by the goblins. She'd been in the raid instance with Horizon Dawn, presumably. If there was anything this impressive in that raid instance I figured she would’ve seen it, and maybe this would seem nearly as impressive to her.
Only her mouth was hanging open as well, and she seemed downright speechless.
"Holy shit is right," Keia said. "Damn. This is way more impressive than anything in the raid dungeon.”
The two goblins turned and eyed us suspiciously. There were also a couple of goblin guards at the entrance who tightened their grip on some very nasty looking spears. Spears that were large for the goblins, but only came up to about my shoulder.
I had no doubt that should those goblins want to do something with those spears it would be very painful. Yeah, very painful indeed.
I turned my attention away from the spears and back to the underground city sprawling all around us. Best not to think about the weapons that could be used to turn my digital body into a stuck pig.
Besides, there was plenty to distract me from thoughts of the goblins turning my digital body into a pincushion.
The city was literally carved into the sides of a massive cavern that stretched off as far as the eye could see in either direction. Lights twinkled on the other side of that cavern, and there were glowing crystals that looked very similar to the ones our goblin “escorts” had been carrying.
Though if the scale held then the crystals glowing overhead and providing illumination for this massive underground city would have to be equally massive. Even then their light didn’t pierce the darkness below completely.
I wondered if the crystals our escorts carried were actually infused with magical energy via Spellcrafting, or if maybe they’d cut their light crystals off from whatever those things were on the ceiling.
There were also stalactites far larger than those crystals that thrust down into the chamber’s middle. Stalactites that, at second glance, I realized were glowing not because of any magical energies, but because there were windows in the things. Enough windows that each one of those massive stone structures would’ve been a city unto itself, and they dropped down into darkness below until I couldn’t see the lights twinkling as the crystal glow lost out to the deep darkness of a land without the sun.
As I looked at them I couldn’t even be sure that they were stalactites. They didn’t seem to taper off. No, it was more like massive columns of rock glowing both with crystals and with the steady light that no doubt meant there were goblins inside those structures going about their business by the light of those crystals.
And they stretched off into eternity in either direction. Which is to say there were jagged inhabited rocky columns that stretched off until darkness and distance overtook them. I couldn’t even begin to calculate how many goblins must be living down here, but it had to be more than the entire population of goblins and humans combined up on the surface, then multiplied by at least double digits!
Oh hell yes. That meant there was one hell of a workforce lurking down here. All it needed was a wily player to come along and take advantage of it. That familiar tingling was hitting me all over again, and it was more intense than it’d ever been.
Well, maybe not more intense than when I’d discovered Spellcrafting, but it was close!
"People live in those things?” I asked, the amazement clear in my voice.
"Well of course," Rezzik said. "Where else are we supposed to live?
“Like how many are we talking?”
“Thousands near the top,” Rezzik said. “Near the bottom, though…”
He was cut off by a hiss from one of our goblin escorts. Rezzik glared at the goblin, but he also shut his mouth and kept it shut. Which had me more curious than anything about why they would want him to shut up about whatever he’d been about to say, but I also didn’t want to risk those weapons.
The ground rumbled beneath us. It felt a hell of a lot stronger here than it’d been when we were in the tunnels. I also thought I heard someone whispering beside me, and wheeled to look at Keia.
“What was that?”
“What was what?” she asked.
“You just said something,” I said. “I didn’t quite catch it though. What’s up?”
Keia looked at me and it was clear she thought I was losing it.
“I didn’t say anything,” she said.
“Conlan is so sexy,” a voice whispered from behind both of us. “I can’t wait to get out of this armor and…”
Whatever else Kristoph had been about to whisper in our ears was cut off as Keia wheeled around and slammed her knee up between his legs. He jumped back, but it was probably his armor more than anything that saved the day.
“Easy there crazy lady!” he shouted. “It was just a joke!”
“And it wasn’t funny,” she said. “Now be careful or I’m going to hit that thing when you’re not wearing armor, and I won’t give you a heal either.”
I shook my head. I must’ve been hearing things. Weird, but whatever. This was the kind of place that could make a man think he was hearing things. The bustle of a massive living and breathing underground city was all around us, after all.
Walkways ran around the edge, cut into the stone along the side, and flew out between the massive columns and to those edges. Windows glowed and twinkled in the dim twilight that got darker the deeper I looked into the cavern.
I took a step forward to have a look. There wasn’t a railing at the edge which had my stomach clenching, but I reminded myself it was a game.
I stared. The darkness went down, and down, and then I realized I was staring not at a bottom, but at darkness and twinkling lights that disappeared down into that darkness until it was too deep to be illuminated by the bright crystals at the top. That hadn’t been an illusion when I was standing back from the edge.
"Is there a bottom to that?" I asked, turning back to the goblins. “Because that seems like the kind of darkness that would hide some nasty monster or something.”
Again our escorts exchanged glances. Rezzik opened his mouth like he was about to say something, but before he could say that something those escorts shot him a look and he shut his mouth pretty quick.
Rezzik stepped forward and peered over the edge as though it wasn't a huge deal at all, and shrugged.
"Maybe. Maybe not. We haven't gone down far enough to see,” Rezzik said.
Again there was a look from those two escorts. As though Rezzik wasn’t telling me everything, and they were relieved. I didn’t like to think of the little guy lying to us, but if it was some sort of secret they were supposed to keep until some game condition was met like, say, a raiding party coming through, then I could understand them keeping quiet.
It wasn’t that Rezzik was intentionally trying to mislead us so much as he couldn’t help himself about misleading us any more than he could fight the urge to go back to the mines where he’d no doubt meet an unfortunate demise.
I was learning about all sorts of unfortunate side effects of putting thinking creatures in a game alongside directives that still made them behave like old fashioned MMO NPCs from time to time.
I stared into the darkness and felt the call of the void. The sudden urge to throw myself over that edge and see how far down it went. To see if there really was a secret lurking down there the goblins were trying to keep from me.
Another whisper seemed to tug at me. As though Keia was telling me to jump in there. To do it. I glanced over, and she was silent. Which was good for sending a shiver running through me as I wondered about what could be whispering in my head.
Though it was a different sort of feeling than the weird twisting in the stomach that someone got when we were, say, going into one of the translucent balconies on the arcology and looking down at the earth far below. Balconies that were supposed to be safe but became less so with each passing year as lack of maintenance and cost cutting took its toll.
There were stories about one of those breaking on our level every couple of years, with the quickly covered over holes where they’d been standing as the only monument to the people who’d lost their lives when years of neglect finally bested clever engineering.
Here I knew the long drop wouldn’t result in my permanent demise. No, I’d simply go back to wherever the nearest respawn point was, and I’d get the thrill of seeing whatever was waiting down there. Even if I couldn't shake the feeling that it was probably just darkness surrounding me and then a sudden stop as I hit the bottom wherever it was far down below.
I might not even get to see it if everything down below was truly as dark as it seemed.
Or maybe there was some horrifying creature lurking down there that the goblins were aware of but keeping their mouths shut about it. A pit that deep and dark seemed like the perfect spot to put either a spike pit or a giant world monster that was waiting for some massive world event to reveal itself to said world.
The only thing that stopped me from jumping was the knowledge that I’d lose all my stuff if I took the leap. There’d be no way to get at whatever little treasure chest held all of my loot, and so it would probably stay down there until some enterprising group of players eventually found their way down into the depths below.
That didn't seem like the kind of thing that would happen for a good long while though. Not when the game was still brand-new.
Not when there probably weren't any players with the requisite skills to go down into a place like that. If Horizon couldn’t even clear the local raid dungeon with all the time they’d had then I really couldn’t see them braving the depths below.
The other thing that stopped me was that, as far as I knew, the closest respawn point was still at the entrance to the raid dungeon. Which meant if I did die I’d be sent gearless to territory firmly controlled by the assholes in Horizon Dawn. Which made respawning there a death sentence. Those assholes would happily kill me over and over again, sure in the knowledge that I’d always come right back to where they were waiting for me.
Given all the trouble I’d caused for them lately I could imagine they wouldn’t get tired of killing me over and over anytime soon.
I needed a way to kill them. All of them. Over and over again. I needed to let their blood flow until they had to wade through a river of their own death and destruction left behind to get to me and I needed something that I could partner with to do it.
I’d thought the goblins were my option, but as I leaned forward I wondered if there wasn’t another way. If there wasn’t some way I could…
A big beefy hand landed on my shoulder and caused me to jump. Which, in turn, almost caused me to fall over the edge. An edge I’d already been far too close to. My arms cartwheeled, but the only terror I felt was for all the stuff I was carrying. I really didn't want to go to the trouble of going out and mining more of it.
Then the beefy hand pulled me back.
"You okay there man?” Kristoph asked.
"Yeah, I think I am," I lied, looking into that darkness and thinking of the thoughts that’d been running through my head.
"Good," Kristoph said. "Because I was worried for a minute there. You looked like you were seriously thinking about jumping on the edge or something."
I stared down into the darkness. Wondered what might be waiting down there, and decided I wasn't going to look down there and wonder until I had a full raid behind me that was armed to the teeth. I took a step back. Forced myself onto the path that led both up and down on the long spiral that ran around the chamber edges.
"I'm fine," I said, switching to party chat. "Just wondering what kind of nasty monster is lurking down there. Something tells me there’s a little more than what our friends here are letting on.”
“What makes you say that?” Keia said.
“The creepy whispering was my first tip off,” I said. “Then there’s this whole weird thought process I just had where I was imagining bathing in rivers of Horizon Dawn blood.”
“A little creepy, but I support the spirit behind a vision like that,” Keia said.
“Yeah, but that’s not the kind of vision I’d have on my own. Something just tried to turn me to the dark side,” I said, turning and grinning at my friends. “And I think that means there’s something lurking down there. Something big. Something…”
Kristoph held up a hand and finished my sentence in a singsong voice. “…we can exploit!”
My grin turned downright malicious. “Exactly.”
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!