I couldn't be sure exactly how close to the truth that was. I had a sneaking suspicion Horizon was locking down the mining supplies in an area with sword and shield and then using those raw materials to create their Horizon Dawn Syndicate crap.
Besides, my conversations with Trelor also backed that up. If they wanted to create stuff in the game then they needed the raw materials.
I’m sure some middle manager at Lotus thought they were being terribly clever when they put that little rider in their contract, never realizing that they were encouraging the first full scale invasion of a digital world in the history of humanity.
But ultimately that was merely a guess on my part. Trelor hinted at stuff without coming out and saying it, so I couldn’t say for sure that disrupting the goblinsteel supply would fuck over Horizon Dawn.
Not that I was going to breathe a word of that to the regent. I figured attacking the mines and kicking Horizon Dawn out would be a worthwhile goal whether or not it disrupted their supplies.
Besides, I had other plans for undercutting them and fucking over their business.
“Dishonorable scum," the regent spat.
"Totally agree with you on that score," I said. “We have to fight them on terms they understand. That’s the one way you hurt someone who only cares about money. You don't kill them. You don't steal their women and kill their children."
I wasn’t going to even go into the fact that no players in the game could be killed permanently. At least I was pretty sure the same accident that’d killed my sister was no longer present in the Lotus hardware after Horizon used it to maliciously go after players they didn’t like.
The fact that I was still alive rather than a vegetable or dead after some of the hijinks I’d pulled were proof enough of that.
Plus no one in the game had kids. I was pretty sure there were probably people shacking up though. Players getting a little textual with one another was a tale as old as the Internet.
I also got the feeling that the fully functional immersion of the Lotus hardware could make for some very interesting experiences, though of course I hadn’t tried that out beyond making out with Keia which had felt pretty real.
Something to think about later though. Right now I was more worried about getting these goblins on my side. I needed an army of workers, and an actual army of armed goblins wouldn’t hurt either. It was just a matter of figuring out how to get them on my side.
The goblin’s face scrunched up again. I wasn't sure if that was because of the abstract conversation they were having, or if I simply lacked the mental capacity to have a deep and thorough understanding of anything metaphysical relating to his world.
It wouldn't be the first time a complete and total idiot rose to the top of an organization by virtue of being louder than everyone else, and a person whose first solution to any problem was killing his enemies and their women and children was the kind of person who probably had management material written all over him in a fantasy world like this.
“If we don’t kill them then…”
“We hit them in their bottom line," I said, spelling it out since the wheels in the regent’s head were turning too slow for my taste. “We take away their ability to make money. Right now Horizon, the bad gods, are making money hand over fist by exploiting your world. What I propose to you is we seize the means of production and go into business for ourselves!"
I knew of at least one economics teacher I’d had who would’ve been apoplectic at my mixing of Marxist metaphors and explanations of capitalism, but whatever. It seemed to be working. The goblin was considering it, at least.
"What do we have to do?" the goblin asked, still sounding suspicious.
I wanted to smack Horizon Dawn’s leaders around for making this so difficult for me by making the goblins so untrusting. Then again if it’d all been sunshine and rainbows and hugs then I never would’ve been able to exploit their hatred of Horizon Dawn in the first place, so I figured it was a double edged sword.
"That's easy," I said. "You're going to come work for me. I'm going to give you the ability to add spell infusions to weapons, and we're going to attack them right in their bottom line. Of course attacking that bottom line is going to involve some good old fashioned regular warfare in addition to economic warfare, but from what I’ve seen of you guys I don’t think that’ll be much of a problem.”
"And why should we go into business with you instead of just doing this ourselves?" the regent asked, hitting me with a piercing look.
I held up my fingers. "Two reasons. The first being I'm the only one who can grant you the ability to add spell infusions to weapons.”
“Why didn’t you fix those lights?” I asked, cutting off any protest before the regent could start.
He glanced at the lights I’d fixed, then returned his glower to me.
“That’s what I thought. Without me and my ability you're sunk. You can keep on doing whatever it is you’ve been doing, but you won’t get access to all the wonderful toys I’m discovering.”
Granting someone else some of my Spellcrafting ability was a skill that started out small, granting it to one or two people at first, but I could see that the ability quickly scaled.
If I had, say, an entire city full of goblins who were willing to work for me and add spell infusions to weapons in the capacity I was envisioning, well I figured I was probably going to level my Spellcrafting faster than anyone had ever ground out a crafting skill tree in the history of video games.
I was also pretty sure the game designers, even Trelor the magnificent, hadn’t thought of someone setting up a mass production operation with a bunch of NPCs acting as vengeful labor when they set that system up. From reading the tooltips it seemed more like the system they had in mind involved players working together in a smaller artisenal level.
I just hoped they didn’t try to patch it out once they realized what I was doing and how I was exploiting it.
"And the second reason?" the regent asked.
"It's simple. The gods won't let you do it unless you have me around to help you out," I said.
I was taking a gamble here. This goblin had already shown multiple times that he wasn’t the greatest at understanding metagaming concepts. I wasn’t sure if that was because his mind had trouble wrapping itself around the fake world paradigm, or if there was something in their code that prevented the thinking creatures in the game from thinking too long and hard about the inconsistencies in their world.
"What does that mean?" the regent asked.
Yup. This one was definitely having some trouble understanding what was going on here.
"It's silly, but it's the way things work in this world. Unless you have a playe… visitor helping you out and making things happen, suggesting things, taking you to war against other visitors, you're all going to sit here in this city waiting for them to eventually get to you and start the systematic slaughter of your people. I know you don't understand what this means, but you’re nothing but a raid dungeon to them, and without me that's all you're ever going to be."
I leaned in closer. Spoke in a quiet voice that was laced with menace. Menace for Horizon Dawn. Not for the goblins.
"But if you follow me? I'm going to lead you to the kind of money and glory you couldn't even begin to imagine, and you look to me like the kind of goblin who can imagine an awful lot of money and glory.”
I paused. Watched the goblin’s face and intentionally didn’t look up at that crystal with the older goblin looking down on us. I wondered if I’d sold this as well as I’d hoped. The goblin still didn't strike me as the sharpest sword in the scabbard.
I heard laughter. Low and rumbling, and it filled the room. All the gems started to flash all around us in time with that laughter. Even the one I’d fixed. I looked up to see the wider goblin face in that larger multifaceted gem looking down at me and laughing.
The laughter got louder. To the point that the room seemed to be enveloped in an earthquake. I managed to keep my footing, but only just.
The reaction from the goblins in the room was even more interesting. The majordomo dove for the floor like we were in an old World War IV first person shooter and started kissing the floor with every bit of his face he could put on the thing. Kristoph and Keia looked around with interest.
The regent simply rolled his eyes and sat back in his chair. The earthquake settled down just a little, but I almost thought I heard an echo, or maybe a counterpoint, to that earthquake. A counterpoint that included a quiet voice whispering to me that I needed to kill them all.
I shook my head and chased that thought away. I really didn’t have time for eldritch horrors invading my thoughts right now, but I was going to have to deal with that sooner or later. If for no other reason than it was annoying having intrusive thoughts like that thrust on me, and in the game world at least I could get rid of those intrusive thoughts with high explosives instead of medication.
“Where’s that earthquake coming from?” Keia asked.
I nodded to the crystal. “The goblin that’s been watching us up there is having a laugh.”
“The what?” Keia said, squinting at the gem.
“The goblin who’s been up there watching us the whole time,” I said. “He’s literally been right there this entire time.”
“I got nothing,” Kristoph said. “Looks like an oversized gem that might be worth something, but that’s it.”
The goblin cocked an eyebrow at me, then there was a flash. Keia and Kristoph blinked at the bright light, but when they looked up at the crystal again there was clear recognition there dawning on their faces.
"Bravo human," that deep rumbling voice said, though there was a slight delay between the words and the goblin’s lips. Like there was some sort of lag between wherever the hell he was and us.
I managed to maintain my composure as I looked up at the gem, but only just. I got the feeling if I fucked this up then it’d be all she wrote.
"And who might you be?" I asked, knowing the answer but having to ask the question.
"I am the goblin king!" he bellowed.
"Oh my God," Keia said, her hands going to her face. "He has the hair!"
Her voice had gone high-pitched. Like the kind of high-pitched squealing that was usually only reserved for teenage girls who were seeing the lead singer of their favorite boy band or something. Only as far as I could tell I was simply looking at the craggy face of a goblin that seemed a little older, a little more wise, than any others he’d seen so far in the game.
Well there was that and the ridiculous hair. Most of the goblins I’d seen were either bald up top, or they had scraggly bits of hair sticking up out of the top.
Not the goblin king though. No, he had that epic mane. It was in full color in that crystal as opposed to the dull burnished grey on the coin bearing his visage, which meant I could see it in all its bright platinum blonde glory. Like the kind of color that came out of a bottle and not the kind that would ever be naturally occurring, and it flowed out in an epic hairstyle that looked like something straight out of an 80's glam rock hair metal music video.
Again that was the kind of hairstyle that could never arise naturally within nature. No, it was the kind of hair that could only be created by using enough hairspray to put an appreciable dent in the ozone layer.
Then again what could arise naturally in nature was hardly a concern considering this was all an artificial world that’d been willed into existence by a bunch of programmers. Not to mention I wasn’t even sure if this world had an ozone layer to deplete, and if it did then restocking it would be a matter of some developers flipping some bits and making it so.
I had no idea what that ridiculous hairstyle meant, though I had a sneaking suspicion it was a reference to that Labyrinth movie Keia had mentioned watching with me at some point. I figured this would've been hilarious if I’d seen that movie and had any idea what the hell was going on, but I hadn't so it didn't.
"Nice to meet you," I said.
"Where's your respect?" the goblin king bellowed. “I am a king, boy!”
I laughed and shook my head. "I'm sorry, but that's not how this works and I think you know it."
"Excuse me?" the king bellowed again.
“This guy seems to like yelling,” Kristoph muttered under his breath just loud enough for me and Keia to hear. “You might want to be careful your worship. You don’t wanna know what he did with the last king he ran into.”
“At least he isn’t spontaneously breaking out into song about stealing babies,” Keia said, still sounding like she was trying very hard not to burst into laughter.
“Why would he do that?” Kristoph muttered back.
“You boys really need to watch Labyrinth, because clearly someone working at Lotus has,” she replied.
I ignored their back and forth. I was more concerned with negotiating with the goblin king. This could all still blow up in my face, and I really didn’t want to die down here with all the valuable stuff I was carrying.
So it was time to lay out how this was going to work and hope for the best while expecting a knife in my back at any moment.
"If you and your people want to survive then you're going to come work for me," I said. "As far as I'm concerned that makes me the boss here. Not you."
There was a grinding noise. For a moment I worried that maybe the earthquake caused by the goblin king's laughter had been enough to loosen some of the stone above us. Was that the sound of a vein of rock moving loose, slowly grinding its way down until it fell into the room and crushed all of us?
Though the more I listened the more I realized that no. It was simply the goblin king grinding his teeth. The old goblin sounded really pissed off, but eventually he smiled. It wasn’t exactly a friendly smile. It was the sort of smile that told me I was going to have to watch my ass around this guy even if he did agree to work with us in the short term.
"You play a dangerous game human," the king said.
I shrugged. "If I die it's temporary. If you die in here it's forever. I'd say that puts me at a distinct advantage, wouldn't you?"
The king laughed again. Again it was a laugh that shook the entire room. Though it was less earthquake this time and more rumbly. There also wasn’t the weird monstrous echo this time around.
"So what do you propose, human?" the goblin king asked.
“Ask him if you remind him of the babe,” Keia whispered, unable to hide her snort this time around.
I ignored Keia and grinned at the king. "I thought you might never ask. I'm going to be able to supply you with weapons, but I'm going to need you to help me get some supplies, set up manufacturing facilities, and…
Another whisper moved through my head. Told me to throw the goblins into their manufacturing facilities. Throw them off the edge. Feed on their blood so sweet. It had a very Wheel of Time Machin Shin sort of vibe to it.
“Oh, and we’re going to be doing some pest control with the elder god problem you have down in your basement. How does that sound?"
"I'm listening," the goblin king said.
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!