"There you go," I said. "Much better!"
The goblin majordomo was still sputtering and hissing. The little bastard seemed really pissed off, which didn't seem too terribly grateful to me considering he'd just fixed their ancient whatsit that supposedly couldn’t be repaired.
"You dare touch one of the sacred light gems?" the majordomo hissed.
"You bet your ass I do," I said. "And I can do a lot more than that too."
I held up one of the gems I had in my inventory. The thing was clear and looked close enough to the gems the goblins had been carrying. Sure I hadn’t had time to test this, but I figured it was a pretty safe bet based on the feeling I got when I held the gem.
Those feelings that I could sense what a gem was supposed to be used for got stronger and stronger the more I used the damn things.
"I can infuse these with the light spell easily enough,” I said.
At least I was pretty sure I had the right sort of gem based on how similar it was to the glowing light gems. It’d be awkward if I ended up guessing wrong on the infusion and doing something that resulted in the untimely demise of everyone in the room.
"Are you telling me you guys can't do that?”
I tried to sound innocent as I said it. Everyone in here knew they couldn’t do jack or shit, but I was playing to an audience here. Even if it was an audience of one overweight little goblin sitting in a chair at the back of the room.
The majordomo looked at the regent, then back to me.
"We can do some basic infusions for weapons," he said slowly, like I was torturing him for state secrets or something. "But that's it."
"Well then today is your lucky day," I said. "Because I'm going to make you a hell of a deal."
I walked up to the regent. Or maybe he was the chief. Whatever the fuck his title was, h was the asshole who was in charge. For the moment, at least, and that was all that mattered to me.
"What deal?" the regent croaked. That was the first time he'd spoken since we walked into the room, and he had the kind of voice that usually only came from the rare idiots who insisted on maintaining an illegal pack a day smoking habit in the modern era.
I smiled and decided to let the moment ride for just a little bit. Just long enough to really set the tone. Make them think about what they were going to do for me. What I was going to do for them, for that matter.
Something shifted and moved above the goblin regent. I looked up in time to see a massive crystal appearing up there, seemingly growing out of the wall which was a trippy experience. The thing was massive and multifaceted, and staring out of that crystal was a very old goblin head. A ery old goblin head that had the most epic ‘80s hair metal coif I’d ever seen. It was an image that matched almost exactly the coin Rezzik gave me on our first day in the game.
That old goblin head turned to look at me and blinked, and it struck me that I was on one end of a two-way communication.
Now that was an interesting trick. I wondered if it was the fantasy world equivalent of a television, though it would get very distracting very fast to watch a TV program through a multifaceted gem like that. I was starting to get the feeling that these gems and the Spellcrafting system were the key to creating a much more modern world in this fantasy world than the medievalpunk world Lotus had put together for players to explore.
I wondered if a gempunk empire ruled by infused gems was what Todd had in mind when he put together the crafting system, or if that was simply going to be a side effect of some of the stuff I was doing as I played with the gem technology.
I also got the feeling this goblin staring down at me was the real audience, and had been all along. So I went on.
"What if I could give you the secret to true Spellcrafting, and help you to make a shitload of money and kick out the Horizon of people who’ve been killing your people at the same time?" I asked.
The regent’s eyes narrowed as I mentioned Horizon. Clearly there was no love lost there. As well there shouldn't be considering those assholes were still trying to kill every goblin they came across. The way I, Keia, and Kristoph had been introduced to this goblin city was proof enough of that.
"How would you even do that?" the regent asked.
I glanced up at the goblin staring down at us. I still had his attention. Good.
"That's simple," I said, looking back to the regent. "I plan on beating them at their own game."
"You're going to kill them all and kick them out of our city and the mines?" the regent asked.
I frowned. I got the feeling that if all the goblins who were massed here in this Undercity actually decided to take it upon themselves to kick Horizon out of the town then there was a good chance they’d succeed. Nilbog was merely the tip of the iceberg when it came to the local goblin population, and I had a fun moment of imagining Torian pissing himself as a goblin army appeared on the outskirts of town and washed over Horizon Dawn in a wave of gore that would be rendered in lovingly realistic detail thanks to the Lotus obsession with verisimilitude.
It was only through a trick of the game mechanics that they weren’t fighting off the humans on their own.
I wondered if that was because they were programmed not to interfere with players taking over the town, or if there was something more to it than that. What if I’d stumbled on a player versus player system that went way beyond taking on other players in one-on-one combat like most boring MMOs? What if the intention here was for players to take one another on in a more massive conflict? Cities going against other cities? Giant player armies duking it out?
It was the kind of true factional player versus player combat that had been promised time and again by so many MMOs, and as far as I could tell the only company that’d ever gotten close to delivering on that promise was a little company called Mythic who made a game called Dark Age of Camelot that had largely been forgotten by all but the few ancient geezers who played back when it was a big deal at the turn of the century.
Even then the reality had fallen far short of the promise, but playing on a pirate server had still impressed me.
The idea of a game featuring truly massive battles between city states fighting against one another, city states that were owned and run by players, sent a shiver running down my spine.
"There might be some killing involved," I said. I grinned. It wasn't a pleasant grin, and the goblin regent shrank back in his seat. Which was almost laughable considering the extent of my combat abilities. "In fact I can almost guarantee you there's going to be a lot of bloodshed before this is all said and done. Horizon Dawn is going to regret the day they ever moved into your town and started treating you like second-class citizens within your own territory.”
I infuse the gem, and sure enough it bloomed with a light bright enough to fill the room. Which was a damn sight better than blooming with an explosion big enough to kill everyone in the room. I let out a small relieved sigh, and hoped neither the regent nor the goblin watching in the crystal up above noticed.
The goblin regent’s eyes went wide, and he scooted forward just a bit when he realized I didn’t mean him any immediate harm. Still, he’d been intimidated. I wasn't sure if that was any innate intimidating that I gave off, or if it was simply that the regent had seen enough of his people getting their asses handed to them by human players that a little bit of terror was rubbing off on humans who were less than intimidating.
Either way, it was a tool and I’d use it.
"I've been giving this a lot of thought," I said. "And what we’re going to do is hit them where it really hurts. Then we’re going to use what we gather from hitting them where it hurts to wipe them off the map.”
Again the goblin regent licked his lips. I tried to imagine an AI subroutine trying to understand what I was saying in the terms of his world as he understood it. Which wasn't at all the world he was actually living in, but that was okay.
For all that the regent was a sophisticated bit of artificial intelligence that had no idea he was an artificial construct, he was also a thinking creature that definitely could pass a Turing test and the cogito ergo sum test. He was also still a product of his world, and he saw things in terms of the rules set forth in that world and not in terms of a game world that was being contested by two massive corporations.
“So you propose that we try to drive them out of Nilbog?”
“I propose that, yes, but to do that we have to hit them where they hurts and make them regret ever crossing us,” I said.
“So we're going to take their women and kill their children?" the regent asked, phrasing the revenge in the only way he clearly knew how in this world.
I rolled my eyes. Let out a frustrated growl. The goblin might be a product of its environment, but that didn't mean I couldn't get a little frustrated with the goblin for acting like a product of its environment.
Especially since I was going to have to change the way they thought about that environment if we were going to pull this off.
"No," I said. "Let me explain this in terms you might understand. You know all about the evil men who've been coming to your world lately, right?"
“The visitors," the regent said with a spit. "I'm aware of them, yes."
The last bit was a said with a sarcastic twisting of his mouth. Oh yes. He was well aware of players coming into the game. Probably because those players had been doing their best to kill as many of his compatriots as possible.
That was the sort of thing that would’ve been pretty difficult to miss. Especially for the current defacto ruler of the faction that was getting their asses getting curb stomped on the regular, for all that I hadn’t actually seen any curbs for them to get stomped into since arriving here.
"Well all those visitors have come into your game from the real world,” I said.
“The real world?” the regent asked with a snort.
“Easy there Conlan,” Keia said in party chat. “You might not want to go revealing that kind of stuff to the goblins who could end us if they wanted to.”
“We have to do this,” I said. “They have to know. Maybe they won’t understand, but I have to try.”
“What’s not real about this world around us?” the goblin asked, arching an eyebrow.
I glanced up to make sure I still had the true audience’s attention. That aged goblin with the huge hair was still hitting me with a considering look. I took a deep breath.
“Everything around you is a simulation that was created by game developers so they can have a playground for the visitors to play in.”
I search the goblins’ faces, regent and ‘80s hair metal aficionado alike, to see if there was any sign either one understood anything I said. From the confused look twisting both faces there wasn't a chance. I sighed. Decided to go at it from a different tack.
"There are gods in your world, right?" I asked.
It occurred to me that I probably should’ve spent more time learning about the lore of this game world. As it was I was sure I sounded like an alien come down from the skies to speak with ancient humans. If any of that had ever actually happened, which it hadn't.
"Well yes," the regent said. "Everyone knows this."
"Spoken with all the confidence of someone who's never bothered to question the way things are," I said, which earned me a sour look but not a spear in the side. I’d take it. "Not that I blame you for that. You're the regent of your people down here and your king is trapped off who knows where so you're the real power around here.”
My eyes darted up. Crystal goblin frowned. Oh yeah. I had a pretty good idea exactly who I was looking at up there, but I had to keep playing like I didn’t for as long as they wanted to keep up this little masquerade of pretending that goblin wasn’t up there hanging on my every word.
“I can imagine you probably think the gods are angry with you rather than a bunch of English majors writing a hack but convenient back story that puts you in this position right now where I can take advantage of it."
Behind us Keia giggled. Meanwhile the regent seemed to be trying to decide whether or not he should be insulted.
“There are gods out there in the world, but not the gods you're thinking of," I said. “These gods created this world and the situation you find yourself in right now. Only there are other gods who have come into this world. They want to ruin the plans of the first gods. They want to take this world and make it their own in their contest with the gods who created your world, and that’s where Horizon Dawn came from.”
The regent let out a low growl and grasped at something by his side. There was nothing but air there, but I got the feeling the old goblin was reaching for a weapon that’d probably been there once upon a time. Or rather his programming told him he’d had a youth and there’d been a weapon there in that youth even though his youth had never actually happened, which was a bit of an existential mindfuck when I thought about it.
The regent seemed to realize he was grasping at nothing. He turned back to me, his face a thunderhead of fury.
“You come to me telling me we have to fight gods themselves to save my people? I might as well have them all throw themselves off the edge and give themselves to the Ancient One,” he growled.
"Easy there," I said, tucking away the casual confirmation of an eldritch horror lurking somewhere in the depths below. "I'm getting to how we can fight them off."
"Go on," the regent said.
"These new gods only care about money. They only care about exploiting your world to extract as much wealth as possible, and they do that by stealing the goblin ore from your mines and selling it to other visitors. This war of the gods is economic, first and foremost.”
The goblin’s face scrunched up in confusion and I sighed.
“Looks like this is gonna take a little more explaining,” Kristoph muttered.
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!