I stepped out into the clearing and was greeted with screams as the goblin mage set the Horizon Dawn guard on fire, followed by more screams as Keia leaned in to heal him.
My eyes narrowed. Odd, that. Why would he be screaming at her while she was trying to heal him?
Other goblins came out of the forest and into the clearing to meet the goblins streaming out of the mine. These were the gophers. Goblins who were dressed lightly in clothes that’d been hit with spell infusions that increased their carrying capacity. There wasn’t even a hint of armor for these guys. They needed to be able to move fast enough to avoid combat.
They grabbed the ore off of the armed goblins who’d cleared out the mine, then scampered off into the woods. The other goblins looked like they were ready to move to the next part of our plan, hit the next mine shaft and relieve it of ore to take back and turn into weapons, but I held up a hand to stop them.
"Hold a moment," I said.
"How are we doing at the front entrance?” I asked.
"Looks like we've got all the time in the world," Kristoph said. "These assholes haven't done a thing. They're just sitting around chatting with each other and playing some stupid card game."
“Ugh. Someone ported Triple Triad into this game and that’s all they play when they’re not being assholes,” Keia said.
"Good," I said, glancing at the Horizon Dawn guard who was still screaming in the middle of the clearing with Keia standing over him looking like an unlikely angel of torture. "Something tells me that's not going to last for a very long though.”
"What gives you that idea?"
I made a jerking motion with my hand. The goblin mage who'd been setting the guy on fire and letting his hit points get low enough that Keia could do a little bit of healing nodded. Another fireball blasted the guy. He screamed, only this time Keia didn’t step forward to save him before his hit point counter ticked to zero.
Now there was a spell I wouldn’t want to experience firsthand.
The guy’s charred remains went limp and he decomposed away to be replaced by a small treasure chest. Keia reached down and touched it.
"Nothing very good here," she said. "Just some Horizon Dawn Syndicate crap.”
"Take it anyway," I said. "We'll sell it on the Auction House for a discount and really piss them off."
Keia grinned. "Sounds like a plan!"
"Oh shit,” Kristoph said in the group chat. "Not sure what you guys just did, but something finally got their attention."
"What kind of attention?" I asked.
"They’re running around, but they look like they still have no idea what they're doing. Like people are moving but they’re not actually organizing or really doing anything, if that makes sense. Doesn’t look like anyone’s in charge down there.”
"Good enough for me," I said, motioning for the goblins to move out. "Let's get going!"
That was all the goblins needed to hear. They moved off into the darkness. They kept close to the rocky wall that was the outer edge of the massive quarry that contained the raid mine entrance. They continued along that path until they came across another guard, though this one looked a lot more alert than the last one.
Not that it was going to do him a damn bit of good. No, this time we didn't bother with any subtlety. The last time I’d wanted to avoid tipping them off that they were under attack because I wanted to get the contents out of at least one mine without worrying about a wipe. It wouldn't be much, not nearly enough to pull off the dual economic and aerial attack I was hoping to launch against Horizon, but it would be enough to arm the goblins to the point that we could do bigger and better raids where we might actually be able to fight off Horizon if they attacked in any sort of organized numbers.
Assuming they didn’t run into some of the higher skill level players in some of the better Horizon gear.
Though it looked like my gamble striking at this time of night was paying off. For now. They weren’t able to respond. At least not in enough force to stop us from hitting more ring mines. I figured if we could go ahead and get everything we needed tonight then why not go for the gold while we’d caught Horizon with their collective pants down?
A couple of goblins pulled out their swords and slammed into the guard, and a moment later he was covered in an angry swarm of goblins.
"Wait!" Keia shouted. "Don't kill him! I need to heal him!"
The goblins finally stopped at her voice, but when they pulled away all that was left was a beat up and pulpy mass of flesh punctured with multiple stab wounds. I didn't think there was a chance the guy was still alive, but then the perforated lump started to move and groan.
Well then. In the real world those injuries would’ve been the end of him, but unluckily for the poor bastard he was in the game world where there was still a chance to save his ass.
Only when he saw Keia approaching his eyes went wide, what was left of them at least, and he started trying to pull himself away from her as though she was some monster straight out of his deepest and darkest nightmares.
"No," he gurgled. "Stay away from me!”
Keia frowned and leaned over him, holding her hands out as they sparkled with the beginnings of a healing spell.
"Hold still. I’m here to heal you!"
"That's what I'm afraid of!" the guy shrieked. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what he was trying to say. It was difficult to tell since I was also pretty sure at least one of his lungs was punctured and letting liquid in from his body which made it more difficult to understand what he was saying.
Keia rolled her eyes and leaned down over the guy. His screams started again as she healed him up. Probably not because of the healing so much as because he’d probably heard what happened to the last guy.
"Would you hold still!" Keia said, making a disgusted noise in the back of her throat.
I didn't hear what happened after that. I was more concerned with watching the goblins streaming into the mine. Though those goblins ran like a well oiled machine, and I was hardly necessary to organize anything. They knew what they were about this time.
After about five minutes Rezzik was at my side staring up. They were getting faster. I wasn’t sure if that was confidence or if they simply knew this mine better, but either way I’d take it.
"All done!" Rezzik said.
"Damn," I breathed. "I can't believe this is going this well.”
"You need to watch about that," Keia said. "Saying something like that is inviting trouble."
I turned, surprised. That’d come from behind me and not from inside my head. “Weren’t you tortu… healing that dude?”
She shrugged. "Turns out he had a dagger on him. Used it to kill himself with a critical hit to the carotid before I could heal him more than the one time. Good experience still, but this is going to be more difficult if they keep killing themselves before I can experiment on them.”
I was surprised at how ruthless she was in her disappointment.
"Remind me to never get on your bad side," I said.
"Just play nice and you won't have to worry about that," she said, patting me on the cheek.
More mule goblins came skittering out of the trees to gather up the ore and take it back to the Kthonopolis. We had rotating teams so we’d never have to wait for a team to make a trip down to the city and back. Maybe I didn’t have enough weapons to arm all the goblins I wanted to, but I sure as shit could put the goblins who couldn’t carry weapons to good use carrying ore in an endless conveyer belt of goblins.
A good thing, too, because it was starting to look like we were going to have a chance to hit every target.
"On to the next one," I said.
I waited until we were on our way before checking in with Kristoph this time around. I didn't want to waste any more precious time than I absolutely had to.
"How are we doing at the front entrance?" I asked.
“Are you sure I can’t spring the big surprise now?” he whined.
“Absolutely not!” I hissed. “I mean not unless it’s absolutely necessary. What’s going on?”
"There's more of them showing up now," Kristoph said. "But nothing you wouldn't be able to handle if they decide to cause trouble."
“So not enough to justify breaking out the big surprise early,” I said.
“I figured you’d say something like that,” Kristoph groused.
“Make sure to let me know if they head out. I don’t want any surprises coming down on us at an inopportune moment.”
"You've got it," Kristoph said. "But they look more confused than anything. I think they're trying to wake anyone up they can, and everyone who's standing out there looks tired. Some of them look scared shitless too. Whatever you did to those guards made an impression.”
"I bet they’re tired,” I said. “And I bet those assholes are scared shitless after what Keia did to them.”
She hit me with a look. Clearly she didn’t have any problem with torturing her former companions in Horizon Dawn if it meant she could skill up. Heck, considering how much she hated the bastards she was probably happy at the opportunity to throw a little torture in with her attempts to skill up.
I really hoped things continued to go well between us, because I didn’t want to think of what she might do to me if we ever broke up and I wound up on her bad side. Her bad side seemed to be a very dangerous place to be.
There wasn't anyone waiting for us at the next mine, which was good for a disappointed grunt from Keia. Whoever had been on guard duty here had decided they were getting the hell out while the getting was good, or they’d decided to log out rather than waiting around to be tortured in the name of improving Keia’s skills.
"Damn it," she said.
"There’ll be more," I said. "Don't worry."
We made their way around the edge of the raid instance hitting one ring mine after another. None of them connected to the raid dungeon, which made me think this design had been set up to allow players to try for goblinsteel without risking the big dungeon, and I was positively gleeful as I thought about all the goblinsteel ore we were carting off.
I was even more pleased with how the goblin NPCs were reacting. Sure I’d kicked everything off, but once I told the goblins what to do Rezzik seemed to be pretty good about keeping the machine running without much input from me.
As we got close to the ring mines near the front entrance I started to worry more and more about Horizon Dawn organizing a counterattack. Sure Kristoph said they were still milling about in confusion, but I was also aware there was always a possibility there might be an attack coming from the trees.
There were scouts out there to make sure that didn’t happen, not to mention the goblin mules who would’ve seen something and said something, but with every passing minute when nothing bad happened I got more and more nervous. Then the other shoe dropped.
“I hate to interrupt the fun, but these guys are starting to gather in force," Kristoph said.
We were almost at the final mine entrance. According to maps Rezzik dug out it was an entrance to a cave system that ran up to one of two towers cut into the rock at the entrance. I couldn’t see Horizon Dawn gathering there, but I could hear them.
Oddly there was no one guarding this mine entrance either. I’d figured there’d be someone here considering this led to a tower that guarded the raid entrance. Either the guards had decided they were logging out rather than getting tortured, or the moment they realized they were under attack they'd made a run for the front gate where they would have strength in numbers.
“So you say they’re bunched up right now?” I asked.
“Yup,” Kristoph said. “They’re forming up under the two towers guarding the entrance. Looks like they’ll be moving out soon.”
“What are you thinking?” Keia asked. “Time for the big surprise?”
I thought of a bunch of Horizon Dawn people gathering together in one spot and presenting an easy target. Then I thought about my one trick that had been working so well so far. The one offensive ability I had, and it wasn’t even an offensive ability so much as it was repurposing the fail state for Spellcrafting in a way I was certain the devs were going to patch out once they discovered how I was using it.
Could it really work again? I kept coming back to that, but only because my enemies kept giving me ample opportunity to do so. And if they were giving me yet another opportunity then was there really anything wrong with seizing that opportunity even if it was repeating the same old same old?
Not to mention this would be a perfect opportunity to try out the big surprise. Kristoph would love that, and I was curious to see how they’d work too. If they were half as effective as I imagined from the schematics then we were about to change the way war was waged in this pseudo-medieval world.
“Rezzik!” I hissed, not wanting to be too loud and get the attention of the Horizon people gathering in the distance. I needed them to stay where they were for another couple of minutes, at least.
Rezzik appeared at my side. "What is it?"
“This is the mine that leads up to the front entrance overlook tower, right?” I asked.
“Yes,” Rezzik said.
I turned to Keia. “This is the one that they took as a choke point in case someone ever tried to assault the raid instance and get in, right?”
“Well yeah,” she said. “But I don’t see how that helps us if they’re gathering down there.”
“Oh but it does,” I said with a grin. “I think I'm going to go for a walk in the mine. See what the view is like up there in the tower.”
"Are you sure about that?" Keia asked. "That could be very dangerous. If they decide to attack now, and they know we're here…"
She didn't have to finish that thought. I could take what she was thinking to its natural conclusion. If Horizon Dawn decided to attack in force and we were stuck in that mine then it’d be a natural bottleneck and we’d be screwed.
I’d be a dead man, and I’d be respawning at the entrance to the quarry that led to the raid instance, which meant I’d be respawning right in the middle of Horizon Dawn territory with a bunch of Horizon Dawn people surrounding me ready to turn me into a digital pincushion.
Still, despite the risks I couldn’t resist the opportunity to stick it to them again. I owed them, damn it.
I grinned. "I'm sorry, but I can't resist. We need to support the big surprise, and I want to see what they look like in field operations.”
Keia sighed and rolled her eyes. "Then I'm coming with you."
"There's no need for you to risk your life," I said, suddenly alarmed. It was one thing to risk my own in-game life, but it was another thing entirely to bring Keia along.
"Like hell am I letting you go out there and risk your life and I'm not doing the same," Keia said, then grinned. “Besides, I want to see the carnage too!”
I didn't bother to argue with her. Mostly because I figured we didn't have time to argue.
"They’re really starting to get agitated," Kristoph said. “We kinda need to shit or get off the pot here.”
“You sure you want to do this?” Keia asked.
“Totally sure,” I said. “‘We’re on our way Kristoph.”
“You’re on your way? The fuck?” he asked, clearly confused.
“You’ll see,” I said.
“I know,” he said, letting out a frustrated sigh. “Does this mean?”
“It means you don’t spring the big surprise until I tell you to,” I said. “Otherwise we might all wind up dead.”
“Seems like a hell of a risk,” Kristoph said.
“It’s a calculated risk,” I said.
“So business as usual?”
We sprinted through the mine, which went up rather than down. We moved higher and higher until mine stopped looking like caves and started looking more like finished rooms that’d been carved out of the rock.
It didn’t take long to come face to face with someone from Horizon Dawn as we rounded a corner. The bastard blinked and then ran at me with his sword out. Time slowed. Keia cried out. A sword flashed.
I looked down at the sword sticking out of my stomach. Then I turned around and got a good look at the pointy end sticking out of my back with my virtual blood dripping off of the thing.
The goblins that were right behind me hacked the guy to pieces before he could pull his sword out and get in another shot. The dude’s screams were loud, and they were the only thing I could hear as blood rushed through my ears and I fell to my knees.
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!