I felt woozy. My hearing was starting to go all ringy and thick. Like my body was having trouble connecting all the nerve endings gathering audio data to all the stuff in my brain that interpreted it.
Though of course that thought was ridiculous. I was in a simulation and everything was quite literally going on in my brain right now. Which didn’t mean it was any less real than the real world. At least the pain felt pretty fucking real.
Still, it helped to remember I was getting a very thorough recreation of what it would feel like to die by being stabbed rather than actually dying by being stabbed.
Still. For that moment when I knew I was about to bite it in game, it was a more than mildly terrifying experience. Nothing like the instant death of getting killed by being blown to smithereens. I felt the life leaving my body. I felt systems shutting down. My view switched to tunnel vision. I felt every pulse of blood and cherished it since it could very well be my last.
Light washed over me. My body jerked with spasms of pain. Something was seriously wrong, and the feeling of lassitude and contentment as I went towards my end was replaced with misery as I screamed and got a taste of what those poor bastards were getting when they were repeatedly burned to death and then brought back from the brink of that death.
I fell forward and looked down at a sword covered in blood. my blood. Only that sword wasn't in my midsection anymore. No, Rezzik held the hilt and stared at me with clear worry.
I looked down at the spot where the sword had so recently been in my midsection and wondered what the hell was going on here. Then stared with fascination as the wound in my middle started to close up as pure light knitted me up. It sort of tickled where it was pulling my body back together.
There was still blood all over my clothes, that blood had already exited my body and the spell Keia cast was designed to heal the body, not remove stains from clothing, but I’d take it.
A hand touched on my back. A delicate hand. A light touch, though there was a tingling sensation that came from that light touch. I wasn’t sure if that tingling sensation was because of some healing magic, or if it was the tingle of knowing Keia was touching me.
I turned to see Keia looking at me with worry all over her face. I grinned. "You saved my ass!"
I expected she’d be happy I was in one piece, but as soon as she realized I was going to be okay her face went from worried to pissed off. A moment later there was a new pain to add to the laundry list of unpleasantness as her hand connected with my cheek. Hoo boy. That fresh pain was actually worse than the lingering effects of getting run through thanks to the way the pain simulation abatement worked in this game.
"You idiot!" she spt.
I frowned. "Excuse me?"
"You stupid fucking idiot! You have no combat skills. You have no way to defend yourself. The only way your ass is going to get saved in a situation like this is if your troops manage to kill whatever is coming at you before you do. That's your attack ability. Not running headfirst into a room and taking a sword to the gut! You’re too squishy to act like a tank!”
I frowned. I opened my mouth to tell her she was being ridiculous, but then I really thought about it.
I had gone charging into that room like I was invincible, which I obviously wasn't since that sword slid into my gut without any trouble. The memory of being run through was still very much there even if Keia’s healing had saved my ass.
If that asshole had managed to get in a shot that was an instant kill rather than hitting off the mark just enough to give Keia enough time to heal me then I would’ve been in deep shit. Something told me the Horizon Dawn people who were surely guarding the local resurrection point wouldn’t be all that happy to see me.
Keia was right. I didn't have any combat abilities. I’d spent all my time in the game working on leveling my crafting abilities.
Sure there was more to it than that. I’d done a lot more than leveling crafting. I’d convinced an entire goblin city to back us up and go to war, sort of. And I had Keia next to me willing to kill me if I did something stupid that got my ass killed.
All of that counted for something. It’s just that it only counted for something if I was willing to lead my army rather than charging ahead like some asshole tank who could take everything the game world threw at them. That wasn’t how my specialization worked.
"Damn," I said.
"What?" Keia said, her voice clipped.
Clearly she was still pissed off, but I knew it was an anger that came from a place of worry that I’d done something that could potentially put me in danger. Hell, I’d done something that could potentially put everyone in danger, for that matter. I honestly wasn’t sure how long this raid would hold together if I expired. How willing the goblins would be to throw themselves in harm’s way if I wasn’t there to remind them of the deal they’d made.
"You're right," I said.
“I’m not… What?"
"You're right," I said. "I'm an idiot. I shouldn't have gone charging off like that. I should’ve waited for my army to go in there and clear things out. A general doesn't lead from the front. At least not if he wants to live long enough to lead the next battle."
"Right," she said slowly, as though she almost expected me to pull something on her that’d explain why I was right after all. I had no intention of doing that though. If someone was speaking truth then it was a good idea to listen. "Well I'm glad you finally see things my way."
I got the feeling she was still a little annoyed. Like maybe she’d been hoping to gripe at me a little more, and my sudden admission that she was right had robbed her of that fun.
I stood. Looked at the remains of the jerk who'd almost killed me. It wasn't pretty. The goblin weapons might be smaller, but they were sharp and effective when wielded by dangerous goblin hands for all that. They’d turned the guy to pulverized mincemeat.
I shivered as I thought about the goblins doing the same to us. It’d been touch and go for a little while, long enough that I’d worried they might pull something similar with me, Kristoph, and Keia.
Of course it turns out all I had to do to prevent that was threaten to awaken an elder god that may or may not be lurking in the depths of their city, bargain with their trapped king, kill their regent, and sort of take over their city. Yeah, simple.
Looking at the end result of what they could do with those weapons, I was glad it hadn't come to them giving me and my friends a little poke.
"What's the status of the assholes out in front of the quarry?” I asked.
"They’re still milling around out there like they’re waiting for someone to come and tell them what to do or something. It seems like they just got really pissed off about something though. Don’t know how long they’re going to hang out even if whoever they’re waiting on doesn’t show up.”
I was willing to bet they were pissed off because they just got word that someone was in one of the areas overlooking their entrance. I walked up to an opening carved in the rock that gave a view of the Horizon Dawn crowd down below as well as a nice view of the approaches to the raid instance mine. This place could be one hell of a defensible position, assuming someone was running things who actually appreciated how to make it a defensible position rather than leaving a single guard behind and assuming they’d keep things in order.
Whatever. If they were stupid enough to let someone go in through the back door to their gatehouse then I was going to use it. It wasn’t my job to tell Torian and all the assholes running Horizon Dawn how to do their jobs.
An arrow whizzed past my head. I ducked down and pressed my back against the rock. I looked up at Keia who stood at the other end of the room with hands on her hips, looking at me with a very sour expression.
"Okay!" I said. "I'm being careful, it's just that this is something I have to do myself!"
Keia sighed. "I know it is. Just be more careful!"
“Kristoph, tell your goblins to get the surprise ready,” I said.
“Okay, but we’re not going to be able to hit much with them hiding on the other side of the mine entrance,” he said.
I grinned. “Don’t you worry about that. I’m going to flush them out. Just make sure the surprise is ready to go.”
“Got it,” Kristoph said.
I pulled yet another water gem out of my inventory. I was honestly astonished that this kept working as well as it did, they kept bunching up like assholes when they should’ve known by now that I was more than capable of taking out large numbers of them if they obligingly stood together in groups like that. Yet another example of the many ways in which I wasn’t going to knock it if they continued to be obligingly stupid for me.
I waited for the gem to get to the point that it was hot, but not the searing heat I’d felt the last time I used this spell in a suicide mission. I tossed it over the edge and into the crowd of people shouting various curses at me from down below. Curses rapidly turned to cries of fear as a few people who’d probably suffered my little trick realized what was about to happen.
At least they thought they knew what was about to happen. The problem being what they thought was about to happen and what was about to happen were two very different things.
“Run for your lives!” someone shouted.
“Holy shit, they’re coming right into our line of fire,” Kristoph said.
“Told you they’d be coming your way,” I said. “Surprise the ever loving shit out of them.”
I popped my head up. That earned me an irritated glare from Keia, but I didn’t care. Everyone down there should be so worried about their own hides at this point that they wouldn’t be concerning themselves overly much with what I was doing all the way up here.
Sure enough most of them were running out of the entrance and away from the gem. The thing was shining brightly, sure, but if this worked out then there was still a little bit of time. I’d thrown it way early, after all.
The Horizon Dawn folks ran for the trees, but they were still mostly bunched together in the bottleneck created by the entrance. So when those trees suddenly came to life with flames that erupted down a line and slammed into that crowd of Horizon Dawn folks they were all obligingly standing there like proverbial sitting ducks in a row.
The cries of terror turned to cries of wounded. Sure there was still some terror mixed in as well, but whatever.
“Damn,” I breathed. “That actually worked! I can’t believe they worked!”
You bet your ass more conventional weapons were one of the first things I looked into, and we’d diverted some of the precious goblinsteel to making what amounted to cannons powered by gems that accelerated fireballs and shot them out the barrel towards whatever unfortunate target I wanted dead.
I hadn’t thought it’d work so spectacularly, but the spell infusion for fireballs that exploded on impact had worked amazingly well.
The Horizon people who’d survived had turned and were running as fast as they could from whatever had come to life to ruin their late night, or early morning, in those trees. Which meant they were running straight for that gem that’d terrified them out of the mine entrance in the first place.
“Would you fucking get down?” Keia said, dragging me back down.
I grinned at her despite the glare she was hitting me with. This was too much fun to be worried that my girlfriend was pissed off at me.
The gem had to be shining pretty brightly at this point, and it was a pity I couldn't risk watching the thing as it went off in the middle of a bunch of survivors who were so panicked they’d forgotten what they were running from in the first place.
I wondered how long it would take for one of those bastards to report the fact that I’d weaponized the fail state for Spellcrafting, and whether or not the devs would patch that fail state out or change it so it only affected the person who was failing at whatever they were crafting.
For now it was working, though, and that could be added to the list of things I wasn’t complaining about if it gave me an advantage.
The explosion was far more muted than the roar from the spellcannons. It was far more muted than the last couple of times I’d tossed a gem grenade, for that matter. The cries of terror down below turned to more screams of pain, but I didn't wait or show any mercy even if they were having a terrible time down there. The fact that I could hear screaming told me the job wasn’t close to being finished. I had another gem out and infused. I tossed the second one when it was about ready to pop, and had a third ready to go as soon as the second left my hand.
The spellcannons roared again off in the distance, and even with the stone between us those things were loud.
“Sounds like Kristoph is having fun with his new toys,” Keia said.
“Let him have his fun,” I said. “We’re gonna have to make a note to get some sort of ear protection though.”
“Can you even get progressive hearing loss in a game?” Keia asked.
“That’s a good question,” I said. “Guess it’s something to ask Trelor the next time we see him.”
“I have a feeling he’s gonna have a lot to say to us when the reports start coming in on this skirmish.”
“You bet your cute ass he is,” I said, grinning maniacally as I tossed gems through the opening above us.
I sent five of them down there total, and the explosions landed in rapid succession. There were fewer and fewer screams each time another explosion landed, or each time the spellcannons roared. I figured that could mean we were doing a pretty good job of killing the bastards, or it could mean they’d finally wised up and were keeping quiet so we didn’t have a good idea of how many there were left down there.
I wasn’t a betting man, but if I was I would’ve put good money on them all being dead. Nothing I’d seen of Horizon Dawn thus far gave me any inclination that the bastards were about to show something approaching intelligence or craftiness when it came to battle tactics.
I very much wanted to peek over the edge and see the carnage, but a glance at Keia stopped me from doing that. She wasn't glaring at me, not exactly, but I knew she was watching me for signs that I was about to do something stupid that would put me in a danger.
And so, cognizant of the ever present danger of archers since one of them had nearly introduced my face to an arrow moments ago, I opened a channel to Kristoph instead.
"What's it look like down there?" I asked.
"I think we got them," Kristoph said.
His voice was subdued. Like he'd just seen some shit he rather wouldn't have. I figured that meant the coast was clear, so I risked standing. Not before giving Keia a look and getting a nod, mind you. I peered over the edge and looked down at the death and destruction we'd wrought by bringing more modern weapons to a fantasy battle.
"Holy shit," I breathed as I got a look at the damage our plan had done.
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!