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The Runesmith

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THE RUNESMITH

Galen Wolf

A LitRPG Short Story

(15,200 words)

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My name is Harald Runestorm.

In real life, I help children with their homework and volunteer in a library project for homeless refugees (due to a probation order), but in my spare time, I log into the World of the Greenwood and kill people for fun.

Sometimes I torture them too, and I generally rob them, but other days I stay in my tower and craft things. That’s just my life choice. Who are you to judge?

I’m going to tell you a story about how I learned a valuable life lesson. This is how it started:

The Greenwood is a virtual reality massively multi-player role-playing game. In the game, by profession, I’m a Runesmith. My class skills are Runes, Potions, Enchanting, Fencing, and Smithing.

I live in a tower that I built myself in a remote part of the Greenwood. The lonely tower sticks up out of the forest of Birnam Wood like a blunt pencil. I’m not ignorant about the symbolism. My slaves built it to my own design out of the local honey-colored limestone. It’s a beaut.

I used to live in the city of Horrabia, but I got annoyed at them telling me what to do all the time. The alignment of most people in Horrabia is Lawful Evil, but I find I’m more chaotic than that, and I need my own space to be wicked. I think each person is evil in his or her own unique way. I put up with Horrabia for several years, but in the end, after all their nag-nag-nag, I decided to leave the city and set up on my own. That’s how I came to build my tower.

Birnam Wood lies at the foot of the Emerald Mountains. There’s a brick road I built myself with lovely yellow stone that links my tower to the main Icknield Way.

The Icknield Way runs-east west, joining the cities of Vinab and Salonika. The Emerald Mountains, just to the south of Birnam Wood, are a good source of mineral deposits from my runes and weapons. I don’t do the work myself of course; I have my gnome slaves dig it all out for me. When I say they are slaves that is not completely correct because I pay them in beer. The more they work the more beer they drink. It’s a game mechanism designed to keep me out of pocket. I have a contract with a brewer from Salonika called Old Tom who delivers the beer every week. Before he was a brewer, he was an Assassin, but now he just brews the cheapest, nastiest ale in the Greenwood. He calls it Craft Ale, but it taste like pig piss, and I should know what pig piss tastes like, but that’s a story for another time. Luckily, it’s only for gnomes. Fucking half pint morons.

I should also mention that I am enormously wealthy. And the reason for that is my runes. I don't like to boast, but I am the best Runesmith in the Greenwood. Because I've developed my skills, and I'm Level 20 developed right up to the 100% mark in all of them, that expertise goes into my runes , so the damage bonus for my offensive runes is fingerlickin’ good and the difficulty check for enchantment runes is ass crackin’ high. That means they are difficult to save against. My wonderfulness gets me lots of customers. They may not like me, some pretty much hate me, but they still come knocking on my shop door. I am also a narcissist. I made a mirror once that I could ask who was the fairest in the land and if it didn’t say it was me; I smashed it and made another. Luckily for the mirror, I am phenomenally good looking. In the Greenwood anyway; what I look like in my bedroom is my business. I admired myself in the mirror. I was tall, rugged, and handsome with a blond beard and long ragged fair hair, always perfectly clean and lustrous. I never wore a shirt. I had armor on but I had chosen the cosmetic look of the bare chest to show off my bodacious and finely buff bod. I twirled in the mirror and thought: yeah.

After admiring myself, I went up to my forge, which is on the top level of my tower. When I’m working, I throw open the windows to let the cooling air in. People often compliment me on the color show they get as they walk by along the Icknield Way whenever I am forging high up in the tower. I say compliment. They’re usually begging for their life at the time, and think it will help to flatter me.

The day this story begins, it was a pleasant day in spring, and I could hear the birds singing in the trees from the woods all around as I slammed my hammer onto the anvil. The impact of the hammer and the showers of multi-colored sparks scared them away. Good: I hate birds. And rabbits.

The silver bell rigged up in the forge gave a little tinkle to show I had a customer. I placed my hammer neatly away, took off my leather apron, and washed my hands in the ceramic bowl I keep nearby for that purpose. Then I descended to meet whoever it was who had come to see me.

You enter the salesroom directly from the door to the woods outside. The room is well lit and I have counters where I set out mahogany boxes on blue velvet to display my runes. I love the way the runes twinkle in the permanent Light spell. The rune boxes are of course runed with shock runes to stop the sly fingers of those who do not want to, or cannot afford to pay for my goods.

I came down the stairs, looked to see who my visitor was, and when I recognized him, I said, “What do you want?”

Jimmy the Zit stood there looking sheepish. He was a Halfling dressed completely in black, with a black facemask, black boots, black gloves, and black cloak. He must think black is the new black. Ass-hat.

I twisted my face. “You can remove that face mask, Jimmy. Or you won’t be getting served.”

He dragged his facemask to reveal a scowl. “You know who I am anyway,” he said. “You said my name.”

“Store policy Jimmy.” I pointed to a sign on the wall where it clearly said: Customers in full stealth or wearing facemasks will not be served.

Jimmy was eyeing my runes.

I watched him suspiciously. “Anyway, have you got any money?”

Jimmy didn’t like paying for anything. Being a member of the Thieves Guild, he usually stole what he wanted, but he knew better than to try to cross me.

Jimmy hummed and hawed. “Not exactly,” he said. “Not that I can spare.”

“So why don’t you piss off then?”

Jimmy cocked his head in what he probably thought was a winning attitude. “I wondered if I could trade some information for a rune?”

We had done this deal before. Jimmy heard all sorts of things going on in the Greenwood that had in the past been lucrative for me. I wasn’t going to rule this trade out, but I wasn’t going to make it easy for him. I frowned. “What rune do you want?”

He pointed at the box with its collection of silver runes. “What’s that one do? The squiggly one?”

“That one adds acid damage to a weapon.”

“What about that one next to it?”

“That one adds fire damage to a weapon.”

Jimmy’s gaze shifted from box to box like a greedy kid on Christmas Morning. He was slavering at the thought of getting a rune for nothing. But I am Harald Runestorm and I always get the best side of the deal.

“What’s that one do – the one like two triangles?”

“What? This one?” I pointed. It didn’t look like two triangles. I sighed. “Jimmy, that one blinds you. And before you ask that one dazzles you. And this one here –”

“The one like a snake?”

“It’s not really like a snake at all,” I said. “But, yes that one chokes you.”

Jimmy sighed and held his chin. “I like the sound of them all.”

“I bet you do.” I leaned back against the wall. “So what’s this information you’ve got me?”

His face brightened. “Oh,” he said, “you are really going to love this.”

“Try me.”

“No, this is gonna be the best information you’ve had in months. It’s a sure-fire tip.”

He was getting on my tits. If he didn’t either tell me what he’d got, or produce money to buy a rune, I was going to kill him. He could see the annoyance in my face.

He stepped back. Fear is what I want to project in this world: fear. Some people want to be loved, but I don’t care about love. I would rather have a box of shit than love. But fear – give me the gift of inspiring fear any day. I prize it more than gold and silver or a kiss from a naked elf girl.

Jimmy cleared his throat. His right eye was twitching. “Well…”

“Get on with it!” I snarled.

Jimmy’s twitch got worse. He shifted from foot to foot like a cross between a frog and a ballerina then cleared his throat again. “Okay, you know the Druid hangout at Avalon?”

I knew Avalon. It was to the west of Ermine Street just before you come to the Ford of Dreams. I nodded.

He continued, “Well, there’s going to be war between Vinab and Horrabia. Apparently the Rangers Guild raided the Royal Palace of Horrabia and stole some stuff from there.”

“I heard that,” I said. “But I’m still not liking what you’re saying, so you better cough up some top rate intelligence real quick.”

I had a knife engraved with choice runes hanging at my belt. I stroked the hilt now, just so he would understand I meant what I said.

He kept running his hand through his hair, coughing nervously but his eyes darted again to the beautiful trays of runes. He was a prisoner of his rune-lust.

“So,” he continued. “It seems that during this raid, the Rangers guild had a lot of support from the city of Vinab. And Horrabia will not tolerate that. They’ve been humiliated and they want payback.”

“So what’s this got to do with the Druids?”

His eye twitched. “Well, the Rangers Guild just founded a village by the Ford of Dreams. A place called Pennred. They set it up at the edge of the Old Forest just where it gives way to the Forest of Nightmares.”

I stroked my chin. “That’s on the edge of Horrabian territory. Very provocative.”

“The rangers are trying to build this settlement and fortify it as a way of staving off an attack from Horrabia. Horrabia is just further up Ermine Street.”

“I know my geography,” I snapped.“But you still haven’t told me about the Druids. Time’s running out for you, Jimmy.” I took the knife from its sheath and laid it on the counter nearby so he could see it glitter in the Light spell. Its runes pulsed out a deadly warning to little Jimmy the Zit.

He trembled alarmingly. His nervous cough was getting the better of him too. He stuttered. “Of course the Druids and the Rangers are big buddies, but the Druids Guild are pacifists. And that means they don’t fight.”

I shook my head. “Are you trying to annoy me? I know what pacifist means.”

He stammered. “But the Druids still hate the Horrabians. So they are supplying the Rangers, and there’s a cargo train going out from Avalon to the new Ranger village of Pennred. It’ll be travelling along Ermine Street. And I know where and when.”

“So where and when?”

Jimmy the Zit extended his hands imploringly. “Come on, man,” he said. “I’ve got to keep some advantage. I was going to hit the thing myself, but there’ll be muscle going along with them. I heard there’ll be NPC guards who will fight. And I thought I needed support.” He gave a smile as weak as the sun on a January morning. He maybe hoped the smile would thaw my icy heart. It didn’t. But I could see some financial advantage in this for me. “So you’re thinking you and me can hit the supply train and steal the stuff?”

He nodded. “That’s about the size of it.” He beamed at me. “Are you in?”

“Maybe.” I tugged at my beard, winding it through my fingers. This could be a good thing. I didn’t think a few Druids and their NPCs would pose much of a threat. “So what’s gonna be in this train?” I asked.

“Ore and timber, for sure. But I heard they’re sending them some magic items as well.”

“How do you know all this?”

Jimmy the Zit tapped his nose. “I got a good source. And also I sneak around a lot.”

I liked the idea of magic items. It was like a lucky bag. You just don’t know what you’re going to get, and that random reward thing pleased me. Also, I’d get to kill people, which I always enjoy.

“Okay, count me in. Let me know when it’s going to be.”

“Sure, sure.” he nodded. “Of course I will. I think it might be tomorrow but I’ll let you know the exact time. Can I find you here?”

“Oh yes. I need to make myself a new sword, so I’ll be here.” I’d been wanting to forge a better sword for a long time. And this little trip out would give me the impetus to create a new rune sword especially if I was going to cut off a few Druid heads. I hate those hippies more than I hate most people.

As I stood there thinking it over, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Jimmy was surreptitiously trying to remove a shock rune from one of the rune boxes. He was using his thief skills and thought I couldn’t see what he was doing. But I see everything. The shock runes are the ones I put on gear to protect it. If a player touches a shock rune, they get health damage and soon drop it. But runesmiths and thieves have skills to remove the runes without getting shocked. Jimmy was very foolish to steal from me. But he’s a thief. I guess he can’t help himself.

I vaulted over the counter and shoved Jimmy away from the rune box. His sly fingers had already rolled my shock rune into a ball of silver.

He blinked rapidly in alarm and backed out of the door.

“Oh no you don’t,” I said, yanking him back by the sleeve. “Give me back my silver.”

With a shaking hand, he held out the silver ball. He looked at his feet and said, “Sorry, Harald. It’s my thieving nature. It got the better of me.”

I reached over to the counter and picked up my dagger. The runes on it scintillated in anticipation. They’ve got a kind of intelligence, the old runes do.

Jimmy’s eyes widened. “What are you going to do with that?” He stammered.

I smiled wickedly. “You said you wanted to give me a hand with this raid.”

He nodded and coughed. Before he realized what I was doing, I lunged forward and sliced off his hand at the wrist. That would teach a little bastard to steal from me.

Jimmy yowled in pain. I held up his dismembered hand in front of him and waggled it. “Don’t steal from me Jimmy. Not from Harald Runestorm. Remember my reputation.”

Jimmy backed out of the door. The silver bell tinkled as he left.

I smiled. “Don’t forget to tell me about this Druid cargo train, or I’ll come looking for you, and you won’t like that.”

Before he left, I reached into the rune box and got him out an acid rune. “Here” I held it out to him.

Jimmy went to extend his right hand then remembered it wasn’t there.

I grinned. “It’ll grow back.”

He took the acid rune greedily with his left hand.

“Yes, I’ll let you know when, of course.” He grinned like a half-wit. As he left my store, he turned and said shyly, “Are we still friends?”

I said coldly, “We were never friends Jimmy.” Then I waved. “See you tomorrow. I’ve got a sword to forge.”

#

Character Sheet

Name: Harald Runestorm

Race: Human

Class: Level 20 Runesmith

285 hp

940 mp

Dodge Save 10

Toughness Save 11

Willpower Save 14

Statistics

STR 21

DEX 19

CON 21

INT 29

WIS 15

CHA 15

Class Skills

Fencing Level 20 - 100% achieved.

Enchanting Level - 20 100% achieved.

Smithing Level 20 -100% achieved.

Runes Level 20 - 100% achieved.

Potions Level 20 - 100% achieved.

Gear

Level 20 Runesword + 5 (+ individual rune effects)

Level 20 Runefist (+ individual rune effects)

Helm of Cherry Aura (Permanent Anti Spitting Aura)

Boots of Fly (Permanent Fly Spell)

Bracers of Breathing (no need to breathe)

Ring of Elemental Resistance (+50 all elemental resists)

Ring of Mana (+200 mana)

Ring of Poison Resistance (+5 to all saves against poisons)

Belt of the Giants (Constitution + 5, Strength +5)

Glasses of Spellsight (+5 int + Permanent Penetrating Gaze)

Cloak of Blur (Enemies have 20% miss chance)

Armor Rating

Helm of Cherry Aura 200

Silver Chainmail – 400

Silver Greaves – 100

Bracers of Breathing – 100

Chainmail Leggings – 200

Total Armor Rating 1000

#

After Jimmy left, I went down into the cellar. As I descended the cool stone stairs to the underground vault where I kept all my ingots and valuables, I mused how fortunate I was to be so wonderful.

I unlocked the heavy iron door with its barrage of protective runes and stepped into the vault, locking the door behind me. The vault was cool and damp. The heavy bolt grated across the door, giving me a satisfying feeling of security.

Also giving me a feeling of security were the runes engraved in silver on the floor of the vault. I’d done them myself of course. The first rune you engrave in a place you want to protect from entry is the ghost rune. Thieves at higher levels get the ability to change into incorporeal form and ghost through doors and walls. This rune in the shape of a cross prevents all undead from entering a place, and of course, in ghost form—thieves count as undead. The second rune you draw is an anchor rune. The purpose of the anchor rune is to stop ghosts leaving a location. In the Enchanting skill set, it’s possible to create a teleport pill from a certain location. So you go to a location make a pill and then later when you swallow the pill you can return to it. Some clever thieves did this and then switched to ghost form. So they could teleport in, steal what they wanted, and then ghost out through the walls. The anchor rune stops them doing this. Finally, each of those runes has to be protected so that thieves cannot simply lift them off the floor with another of their skills. Runesmiths can do this too. Each of the runes is protected with a shock rune and each shock rune is protected with a lock rune. That prevents anyone with a lower skill than the Runesmith who created it from removing the rune, and as I was the best Runesmith in the Greenwood, no one could remove my runes.

I walked over to the stacks of ingots. The metals we used to craft both weapons and armor in the Greenwood have the same names as metals in the real world, but their properties are different. Generally, they look like the original metals from the real world but their properties are different. So in the real world gold is very heavy and soft. That is not the case here.

The most abundant metal. and the cheapest and weakest is copper. Copper gives +1 to attack rolls and a basic armor durability of 50. The next metal up is nickel. Which gives a damage rating of +2 and an armor rating of 100. We go then through iron, silver and gold with gold the best of the earthly metals. Gold provides an attack bonus of +5 and a base armor bonus of 300.

But rarest of all metals, and the best, is meteoric iron. This is rarely found, and when a meteorite strikes the surface of the Greenwood, everyone goes to try to find veins of meteoric iron melted by the impact.

I stood in the chill of the vault and stroked my beard as I perused my stacks of ingots. I had the different metals in different stalls: more copper than I knew what to do with, an abundance of nickel, iron, and silver but not so much gold. I only had seven ingots of meteoric iron, and that shows how rare it is. If I haven’t got much, no one has.

I snapped my fingers and, within seconds, I heard a tentative knocking at the heavy iron door. I withdrew the bolt and one of my gnome slaves came in. I believe they do have names but I don’t bother remembering them. I indicated the ingots of meteoric iron.

“How many, master?”

“I think five.”

“That only leaves you with two, master.” The gnome furrowed his brow. I think he was trying to be helpful. I reached over and slapped him. “I can count, you dolt.”

The gnome struggled to pick up all five of the heavy ingots. I left him wheezing behind me after I unlocked the vault. I mounted the steps up the slender tower until I came to the forge.

The gnome struggled and gasped under the weight of the ingots. As he came up to the forge, I indicated the bench and said I wanted him to put them there. “Will that be all, master?” He spluttered.

“No, wait here. I might need you later.”

I began to forge my new rune sword. First, I heated the meteoric iron in the forge itself until it glowed white-hot. Then I took out the hot metal with my tongs and with my hammer beat the metal into a rough sword shape. I plunged the glowing metal into the trough of water that surged with a boiling hiss. Then I hammered it and tempered it in the trough again, returning it after that to the forge to be heated and hammered another time. After a number of repetitions, I was sweating profusely, but the metal was beginning to take on the quality of a sword.

I selected some walrus ivory to use as the hilt. I also had sapphires that I wanted to inlay on the ivory hilt – the pommel I would make of gold. When I was satisfied with the Runesword, I put it aside and began to think of the runes.

All runes are made of silver. As you advance up the levels of the Rune skill tree, you get more rune skills and can make different kinds of runes. Runes are divided into three classes. To create a rune in a certain class, you add one of the three spirits. The spirits are sulfur, quicksilver, and salt. Runes with sulfur additives are offensive rooms, runes with salt are enchantment rooms, and runes using quicksilver are those that transmute their victims. For example, there’s a Level 11 rune known as the Shape Shifter. This is made of silver, quicksilver, and iridium.

When placed on a sword the Shape-Shifter rune will force any creature that the sword hits into its natural form. This is useful when fighting Rangers shifted into bear form, any werewolves, or other were-creatures.

Each rune has a level. A sword made of meteoric iron will be level 20 because working with meteoric iron is the highest skill in the smithing tree. You can put as many runes as you like on a rune sword as long as their cumulative total of levels does not exceed the level of the weapon. So a copper sword is Level 1 and can only have one Level 1 rune on it. For a Level 20 sword, you could have one level 20 rune or twenty Level 1 runes, or any combination that made up 20.

The rune known as the Life Suc ker is the ultimate rune in the rune smithing skill tree. Anyone hit by that has a 10% chance of having their soul drained from them and a soul gem being created that can be a power source for various other magical operations.

I looked at the sun getting low in the west. The day drew on, but I still wanted to finish my sword before I logged out for the night. I asked the gnome to hand me batches of silver and I went to the rune table and planned my runes. One Level 10 rune is a 5% critical hit chance. So you can put two of those runes on a Level 20 sword and get 10% crit chance besides the weapons natural critical chance, which for a sword is 5%, therefore 15% total crit chance.

But I wanted more of a show. I chose to put four elemental damage runes, which are each Level 2 and cause 1-10 damage for fire, ice, electricity, and acid. So that is potentially an extra 40 damage to my sword per blow, as long as they don’t save.

I then chose to put on a Dazzle rune. When hit by a Dazzle rune the victim is temporarily blinded and stunned for five seconds. Willpower save negates this effect. But as I noted because I am a level 20 Runesmith the DC difficulty check of my runes is my level 20 plus my intelligence bonus and as my Intelligence is 29 that means I get an 18 bonus so the total difficulty check of my dazzle rune is 38 – and the victim has to save against 38. Few people have a Willpower save that high.

The Dazzle rune is Level 4. I added a Blindness rune to the sword, which is Level 3, and a Bleed Rune, which is Level 5. My runes now totaled 20, which was the limit.

I went and got my granite pestle and mortar. I took a silver rod and snipped off about a half inch with the heavy black shears that lay on the wooden table. I had an apothecary’s cabinet filled with glass bottles in which I had the trace minerals that I would add to the runes to give them their specific qualities. My hand hovered over the bottles. The first contained cobalt. The teardrop-shaped bottle was made of translucent electric blue glass. It had a mid-length neck, stood about two inches tall, and most of its label had been torn off. Not that one. The second was an onion-shaped bottle made of opaque lime green glass. It had a long neck, stood about eleven inches tall, and its label was faded by age. It contained magnesium. I didn’t want that just yet. It was the third bottle I wanted. The coffin-shaped bottle was made of transparent royal purple glass. It had a short neck, stood about twelve inches tall, and the label said Iridium in my own handwriting.

I heated the snipped off silver until it was molten. I reached over and got a spoonful of sulfur that I dashed into the mixture. Then I unstoppered the bottle of iridium and shook out a few grains, which fell into the molten silver, disappearing with a wet hiss.

I did this mixing and remixing for each rune, selecting the exact additives for each one. I used my brass pen to draw them on black slate. They would dry there and cool down.

Once I had drawn the runes with my pen, I wanted to transfer them to the sword blade and engrave them in the silver there.

Once I had placed all the runes onto the blade and sealed them with fire, I laid the sword aside for a minute while I dried the damp palms of my hands. I couldn’t afford to mess this up. But then, I saw the runes were fixed and I smiled.

The next thing I had to do was sharpen my sword, which I did with great pleasure. I held the blade against the whetstone and it gave off showers of rainbow colored sparks in the gathering evening light. After some time the sword was ready with its rune engraved blade sharp enough to slice a hair in twain. The walrus ivory inlaid with sapphire and the gold pommel looked very comely. I tested it in my hand hefting it to try the balance. She was an exquisite weapon. I called her Dazzler.

All this time the gnome slave had stood dutifully quiet nearby helping me when I asked him to reach things but otherwise not making a sound.

With my sword in my hand, I beckoned him over.

“Yes master?”

“Come here a sec?”

He nodded and trembled.

“Bow your head a little please?”

The gnome did as I had told him. I saw the sweat beading on his brow. With one sweep of Dazzler, I chopped off his head. If he had been higher-level, the runes would have fired but the damage from the sword was enough to kill him outright. Still, as his head thumped on the stone floor and rolled under the rune table, I thought, she sure is sharp.

I looked down at his dismembered body and I was filled with pity. It was a pity to waste gnome servants like this. But then again, I could just buy another one.

I danced around my rooftop forge slashing my sword this way and that at imaginary enemies. Finally out of breath but happy I kissed the blade of Dazzler and said, “Soon it’ll be time to kill some hippies.”

#

Weapon Statistics

Dazzler: Level 20 Haunted Runesword

Material: Meteoric Iron +6

Durability: 500

Crit: 5% x 2 damage.

Runes:

Shock – Dodge Save

Frost – Dodge Save

Fire – Dodge Save

Acid – Dodge Save

Bleed – Toughness Save

Dazzle – Willpower Save

Deafen – Toughness Save

Haunted Runeswords have a rudimentary intelligence and are said to be haunted by a spirit of hunger and revenge. They have a will of their own.

To Hit: 1d8 + 6 + Strength Bonus + Level Bonus

Damage: 1d8 + 6 + Strength Bonus + Level Bonus + Bleed Rune 1-10 bleed damage every 2 seconds per level of wielder + Shock Rune 1-10 electrical damage; 1-10 acid damage, 1-10 fire damage, 1-10 frost damage.

Damage range when wielded by Harald

41-84 + 1-10 damage over time, max 5-50

Max Crit: 168 (5% chance)

#

I got a message from Jimmy the Zit the next day. In the Greenwood when someone sends you a personal message, it arrives in the mouth of a Dove, which drops the letter on your mat. The bird dropped the letter with a flop, and then fled in a flutter of white wings. It must have thought I was going to kill it. I bend and opened the crisp white envelope and read the message that copied itself instantly into my journal.

Jimmy invited me to meet him that afternoon by the Jeweled Tree in the Old Forest. I was still tired after my long day crafting my new rune sword. I selected a scabbard I already had from my previous sword so I didn’t have to buy a new one and strapped it to my belt. I know that was cheap but if you look after the kopecks, the roubles will look after themselves. I admired myself in the mirror, arranged my beard, and inspected my pecs. Then I clenched my bicep and kissed the bunched muscle: welcome to the gun show! I winked at my reflection. Hot.

I walked up to the top of the tower. And I stood for a second, breathing in the clean spring air of Birnam Woods. Then I launched myself into the air with my Boots of Flying sword over the tower and its clearing, seeing the yellow brick road that led from my Runestore to the Icknield way. The tops of the trees of Birnam Wood waved in the slight breeze, and the crows that had been diving and swooping in the air currents flew away when they saw it was me. I glanced back at the rounded slopes of the Emerald Mountains. I hoped that my gnome servants, the ones who survived at least, would be working there slavishly for me today to bring in more ore and precious gems. Beer was running low, but I didn’t mind owing them for their work. Old Tom would be there soon enough from Salonika and they could drink their rations of the sour ale then.

I soared north-west from the tower across the Spider Woods taking in the tranquil azure waters of the Blue Lake to the north. The last meteorite strike was on the shores of the Blue Lake and I enjoyed several very pleasant days there recovering meteoric iron.

From there I flew west over the Old Forest seeing the glittering golden domes of the city of Vinab to the south. I orientated myself by finding the Old Stone Cross and then struck north-west high above Ermine Street. After about five minutes, I could see the Druid forest of Avalon to the west just over the glittering waters of the River Running. Where Ermine Street crossed the River Running was the Ford of Dreams, and that’s where the new Ranger village of Pennred was being established.

But I wasn’t going that far. I descended towards the Jeweled Tree.

The Jeweled Tree was a landmark along Ermine Street. It looked like a huge spreading oak tree but every Fall it would fruit with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. These precious fruits had magical properties and were valuable for crafting potions, so every autumn horrifically bloody battles took place below the tree as people fought for the gems when they landed on the ground. Of course the Rangers Guild were able to harvest the gems from the treetops themselves, but those who had no ability to fly or climb the trees were reduced to throwing sticks form the ground to try to knock the precious stones down into their grubby cupped hands. Some people thought the Jeweled Tree was exquisite in Fall when the evening sun glittered through the hanging gems. But I thought it was shit. The only good thing about the scene was the heaps of player corpses on the blood stained glass below its spreading branches. I laughed as I remembered the pain I’d inflicted there on the young and innocent.

Jimmy came out of stealth as I landed by the tree trunk.

“Good afternoon, Harald. Nice to find you looking so well.”

“Shut the claptrap, Jimmy. What news have you got?”

Jimmy eyed the hilt of Dazzler with greed in his eyes. “You got a new sword?”

“Yeah. You want to see it?”

Jimmy nodded rapidly. “Yeah, sure, of course.”

I drew the sword from its scabbard and even to myself I must admit I’d done a fantastic piece of work with the walrus ivory hilt and its sparkling sapphires and gold pommel. On the blade, the runes shifted and whispered to themselves, pulsing their dark magic.

Jimmy’s eyes widened, and he whistled. “That’s a real beauty,” he said. “Can I touch it?”

“No.”

“Pity. It looks like a very powerful weapon. I bet it’s worth a bit of gold.”

I hefted the sword in my right hand. “See this sword?”

Jimmy looked puzzled. “Yes. Of course. You just showed it to me.”

“Well, with this sword, Jimmy, I am going to cut off your fucking head if you try to betray me, even if you think of betraying me for a second I will chop of parts of you that you cannot spare.”

He gulped. “Sure, Harald. Easy. Understood. I’ve never betrayed you, Harald. Never would.”

“So, just as long as we understand each other.” I looked at his hand. “I see it grew back again.”

He waved the hand energetically. “Yeah, it was there when I logged in the next time.”

I was bored with him already. “So tell me about this druid cargo train. How long before it comes along the road?”

“We’ve got about half an hour. I’ve laid blade traps along the road that’ll trigger as soon as the first wagons come across them.”

“Sounds like a good plan.” I winked. “Jimmy, I guess we’re going to have to group together.”

I hated grouping with anyone, especially dirty little rats like this Halfling thief, but this was the only way we could send silent messages to each other via our HUDs.

He beamed. “Sure that’s a great idea, Harald! I’ve wanted to group with you for so long. Can I just say how much I admire your work? You’ve always been a figure I’ve looked up to.”

I sheathed Dazzler. “Don’t creep me out with your shit talk. I know you hate my guts. And I don’t care. In fact you are so far beneath my notice I haven’t even noticed what you said.” I pointed at the Jeweled Tree. “So this is where you propose to ambush them?”

Jimmy nodded energetically. “I thought I would go into stealth, wait until the traps triggered then rush them. I think there’ll be at most two druids and a few NPCs. They are very trusting innocent people, druids. Because they’re pacifists themselves, they forget how wicked other people can be.”

I smirked. “I can be pretty wicked.” I shook my beautiful blond hair and straightened my beard ready for combat. “Okay. I’ll just go up into the boughs of the tree itself, and then when the attack begins, come down. We’ll kill a few druids, steal some shit, and then I’ll pay you your meager reward and go back to my tower.”

Jimmy twisted his face. “I thought maybe we could split it 50-50.” He gave his shit eating grin. “After all, I’m the one who came up with the information. It was my idea.”

I puffed up my bare chest. “But I am Harald Runestorm, and you’re just Jimmy the Zit. How could that even begin to be an equal partnership?”

He frowned. He still looked unhappy. He’d just have to learn to live with it. I would maybe throw in a few baubles from the magic items. I actually doubted there would be anything much in there I would want. I could sell it to vendors or melt it down for the raw materials. We’d just have to see.

“So, I’m going up. I should see the Druids coming from up there.”

I flapped my black cloak and the Boots of Flying launched me into the air. I landed on a thick branch of the Jeweled Tree some hundred feet up. It was a very big tree. I looked around for rangers. You often find them hanging around in trees, and they are sneaky and hard to spot. When I was sure no rangers lurked in my tree, I sat on the branch and relaxed. I could see for a long way from here down the cleared trail of Ermine Street. I lit my two pipes, the one of Licorice Root and the second of Lion’s Mane—these two herbs should cure any poisons the filthy hippies threw at me.

I also took time to admire my Runefist on my right hand. The golden gauntlet was inscribed with various enchantment runes. With this charged Runefist, I could make them sleep, or web them, or hit them with a Scorching Ray. I had charged the runes with these enchantments a couple of weeks ago, and they still had a number of charges left before I had to refill them.

After about ten minutes, I heard the thin weird singing of the druids. They ambled along Ermine Street banging tambourines and wailing like skinned cats. It was like that scene in the Lord of the Rings where the elves are wandering through the forest. I’ve always hated elves. Except the girl ones.

I looked down and saw two Druids processing along, a male and a female. I recognized one of them–it was a druid who’d been playing for years – Biróg.

The other male one I didn’t know, but they were both tall and thin and had long straight hair. They looked like extras from a Led Zeppelin video from around 1976. I like Led Zeppelin as much as the next man of my generation although of course I prefer Hawkwind. It wasn’t so much the look of the druids as their whole demeanor; as they got closer, I saw their blissful faces and happy smiles. The whole thing made me puke. I couldn’t wait for the traps to go off and chop them all up into little bloody pieces.

There were three wagons in the cargo train. The first had timber, the second had iron ore, and the third had various things like carpets and kettles and a few interesting looking chests.

I watched them pass under my feet as I stood high up in the Jeweled Tree. They were still chanting and singing and making me feel nauseous. I saw there were some NPC guards with them as well. There was a dryad and a couple of ents too. They should prove little difficulty to me.

As the druid sideshow progressed up Ermine Street, I suddenly heard the sharp metallic sound and the grinding blades of the trap. I saw that the leading ent had been severely chopped, and splinters of matchwood flew all around accompanied by a treelike groaning. I don’t know if trees could feel pain. One can but hope.

The ent’s agony was my cue. I launched into the air from the branch and flew over the wagons, descending like a dark avenger. I saw that Jimmy had already attacked the leading male druid. He stabbed him and caused the longhaired freak to drop his tambourine and scream like a girl. I decided to attack the female Biróg. I landed on the ground drawing Dazzler from her scabbard. Biróg turned to face me.

“You!” She snarled.

“Long time no see Biróg. How are you doing?” I fired a web at her from my Runefist.

She muttered some druid shit and my web fell to the ground, dissipating like strings of shaving foam, without harming her.

“I thought you people were supposed to be pacifists?” I said.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t defend ourselves. What are you doing here, you monster?”

“No matter,” I said swinging at her with Dazzler. Dazzler was a heavy sword, and I planned to chop off a few of her limbs with it. She had four of those, but I thought maybe I’d take off her right leg to get started.

From behind me, the dryad screamed in attack. She was holding a wooden dagger. I sniggered at the skinny, bark skinned imbecile. “What the hell do you think that’s going to do?” I spat in the dryad’s face as I turned to meet her attack.

Then she stabbed me in the chest. The most god-awful pain radiated through my body. From where the dagger stuck into my torso, tendrils of ivy spread out covering me my skin and attempting to borrow into my flesh like wooden fingers.

My HUD flashed red and showed that I had lost 15% health. I reached into my inventory and pulled out a blue healing potion. It was one of my own and very powerful. It cured me back to full health. The dryad attempted to stab me again, but I dodged and fired my Runefist.

This time the web affected the woodland creature, and she was tangled in sticky white threads, threshing around, struggling to escape.

With my left hand, I launched a lateral swing of Dazzler. There was the sound of wood splitting and I decapitated the dryad. The enchantment runes didn’t work on NPC’s, but the elemental damage did. Flashes of fire, crackles of electricity, hisses of acid and the crunching sound of cold accompanied my blow. I watched the dryad’s wooden head bounce over the glade, and then with a self-satisfied smirk, I turned round to face Biróg

I shook my head. “It’s not pacifism if you use NPC’s to fight. If you get someone else to do violence for you and claim to be a pacifist that’s the same as someone who loves burgers but wouldn’t kill a pig.”

Biróg sneered. “You idiot, Harald; burgers are made from beef.”

I threw back my head and laughed. “You see, you’re not even a vegetarian. You know all about burgers.”

She shook her head and did something with her left hand. I really don’t know the druid skill sets so I don’t know what spells they have.

I prepared to chop at her with Dazzler. Over her shoulder, I saw that Jimmy had dealt with the other ent. The ghost of the male druid shimmered around mournfully. There was little he could do now to stop us. He might as well go resurrect; he was no use to Biróg. But then – she would soon be joining him in the ghost state.

But I hadn’t counted what Biróg’s magic had achieved. I looked around to see that the trees and undergrowth had woven together a wall of branches and briars that was trapping us there. As I looked up, I saw that they had completed a roof above, so I wouldn’t be able to get out by flying. This was only a minor inconvenience. I would hack my way out once I dealt with the druid.

“Out of interest I said, what spell is that?”

Seal the Forest,” she said. “And here’s Rooted.”

She spoke liquid words and fronds grew rapidly up from the ground around my legs holding me in place. This was more than a minor inconvenience. There’s no way I could cut them off using Dazzler. I would need my knife. But I haven’t thought to bring my knife. The sly bitch, using magic to defend herself!

I called over to my accomplice. “Jimmy, can you cut these vines from my legs please with your knife? In your own time.”

He stared at the roots around my leg.

“Like now,” I snapped.

“So now you need my help?”

“Don’t get arsey with me please. I’m just not in the mood.”

Biróg turned round to see who I was talking to and recognized the dark robed figure of the thief. She pointed at him and spoke another word. A green beam shot from her index finger and hit Jimmy in the chest.

Instantly Jimmy turned into some kind of brown dust and fell in a heap on the ground. His ghost emerged from his corpse.

“What the hell is that?” I yelled. “That was an insta-kill. How on earth does a pacifist have an insta-kill spell?”

Biróg said, “Yes – Compost. In dire straits, when the forest is threatened, we will use any skill that we have to protect the life of nature from evil men like yourself.”

“Jimmy’s a Halfling.”

“Don’t be obtuse.”

I shook my head. This wasn’t fair. I felt myself pout. “You’re not really pacifists at all! The whole thing’s just a sham. If I’d known that I…”

Biróg smiled wickedly. “You what? You wouldn’t have dared attack us?”

“Fuck this noise,” I said, and hurled Dazzler at her. The Runesword struck her in the left shoulder. On impact, there was a flash of elemental damage and a brilliant blinding light as the Dazzle rune triggered along with a weird Hammond Organ sound effect of the Blind rune proccing.

Biróg stood there dazzled, blind, and unable to do anything. At the same time, I finally saved against the Rooted spell. I was going to have to think of some countermeasure to that for whenever I fought druids again.

Dazzler had fallen to the floor, and I stooped to retrieve my sword. I tightened my grip on the hilt and went to chop Biróg but she saved against my runes and stepped backwards. I should have realized the druids have high willpower saves. Still, she was pretty damaged. Then I saw the silvery white glow of a healing spell.

I growled. I was thwarted, and I don’t like being thwarted. I swung Dazzler around my head and attempted to chop at her again but she muttered something and some kind of little woodland sprite appeared and started buzzing in my ear.

The words of the sprite were very soothing. My eyes grew heavy. I faltered in my attack. I really needed to doze. Then I knew I was the victim of a Sleep spell spoken by the woodland sprite. But I’ve been playing this game for a while and I’d fought better men than Biróg. I reached my head round and smoked my Licorice Root pipe and the drowsiness was banished from my mind.

Biróg stumbled backwards. She was clearly not used to fighting. I slashed at her right and then chopped left causing her immense damage. Once again, she was dazzled and blinded. I knew she would soon save, but it let me get another blow and, after two more chops, when she couldn’t heal herself because of the effects of my runes, I used the Jab-Jab skill from my Fencing skill-set. The runes procced twice each, and she expired with a dismal sigh.

Jimmy the Ghost sent me a message via my HUD: are you going to raise me now?

I smiled at his ghost. “What do you think? This way I get to keep everything.”

“You complete bastard,” he said.

I beamed at him. “Yes, that’s me. Complete.”

The Seal the Forest spell had expired on Biróg’s death, so we could get out, but I realized I was going to have a problem transporting the wagons all on my own. There were three of them. I needed to turn them around. Luckily, they hadn’t been damaged by the blade trap that Jimmy had laid. I sighed. It looked like I wasn’t going to be able to do this without his help.

I reached into my inventory and pulled out a Resurrection Scroll. I intoned the words, summoning his ghost back to life.

As he inhabited his body, he rubbed the circulation back into his hands. He gave a toothless grin. “I knew you were only joking. You’d never double-cross me like this. Not your old pal, Jimmy, who’s so useful to you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Get these wagons turned round please. Let’s take them back.”

“Are we going to take them all the way back to your tower? It’s a hell of a long way.”

He had a point. I leaned against a wagon and scratched myself. “What do you propose?”

“I’ve got a guy who will fence these in Vinab and who’ll give us cash. You see, I am a useful guy to know.”

I pursed my lips. “Maybe, maybe.” He had a point. I didn’t really need the wood or the ore. Money would be better.

I watched while Jimmy laboriously turned the three wagons around and began to lead the first wagon back down Ermine Street towards Vinab. It seemed the NPC horses were very obedient, and they followed the lead of the first wagon. I sat on the third wagon amongst the knick-knacks and treasure chests.

We bumped and rocked as we made our way to Vinab. I reached over and pulled a chest towards me. It was made of mahogany and was slippery to the touch. It looked like it had been damaged. I opened it and it exploded in my face, ruining everything in it and causing me 100 health damage. I cursed and sipped my blue potion restoring me to full health. Then I called over to Jimmy. “Can you come and check these chests for traps?”

I could see the smirk on his face because I’d set the trap off, but when he saw me staring he wiped off the grin. After he fiddled around with them, he announced all the chests were trapped, but the Halfling thief disarmed them with little trouble.

He cocked his head and looked at me. “Should we take a peek inside this one?

I nodded. I was not in a good mood. “This has not gone as smoothly as I wanted.”

The two chests that were left were quite different. One was made of opaque blue glass and appeared indestructible. The second was made of soapstone with carvings of plants and flowers on it. We opened them both to find a mishmash of small level magical items. I had no interest really in any of them. The only thing that caught my attention was something called a Ring of Empathy . The interesting thing was that it gave +5 in wisdom. My wisdom stat was quite low and I could do with boosting it, not least because it would help my willpower score. I didn't know what the Empathy quality did or how it would affect me but I guessed it was some kind of druid crap and I would take the ring just for the wisdom boost.

As I reached in the chest to get it, Jimmy put his hand on mine. “I wouldn’t,” he said.

I shook my head. “I’m in a bad enough mood, Jimmy. I don’t need you telling me what to do.” I bared my teeth. “Get your hand off me.”

“Okay,” he said. I could see he was smirking again. But I didn’t know why. Fucking half-wit. I slipped the ring on my finger and immediately felt wiser. It was a very pleasant feeling. There was also another strange tingling in my chest. I didn’t know what that was. I looked around as we jolted and bumped along Ermine Street. We were nearly at the Stone Cross now. My mouth fell open in amazement at how beautiful the forest was.

Coming the other way was a wagon with two dwarfs on it. As they came close, I could see the fear in their eyes. That was a real shame they felt like that. I gave them a cheery wave and bid them good day. As they passed, they twisted their heads round and one said, “Isn’t that Harald Runestorm?”

I blew them a kiss. “Sure is, boys. You have a good day now!”

“Are you feeling okay, boss?” Jimmy said. He was still smiling. But that was great. The little guy deserved some happiness.

“Yeah, I’m good. Thanks for asking.” In fact, I felt wonderful.

“Just you seem not your old self.”

I shook my head. “Never better, Jimmy. And listen, you just keep all of this loot. We’ll go and sell the stuff but you keep the money; I don’t need it. I’ve got loads.”

It was at this time I first heard the mewing of a small creature. I looked at the wagon carrying the timber in front of us and saw a tiny ball of fur emerge from a hiding place amongst the logs. It was a beautiful little marmalade cat, hardly more than four weeks old. It was the most lovely thing I’d ever seen. It must have gone in there hiding when the combat began and been too scared to come out. I made Jimmy stop the wagons, and went to retrieve the cat. I held it to my chest and stroked it to hear its beautiful purr. I chucked it under the chin and said, “How’s my beautiful kitty-witty?”

For some reason Jimmy was chortling to himself. But he was really a wonderful guy and I could forgive him anything. “Isn’t she lovely Jimmy? I’ve been so lonely in the tower for so long now. All I need is a companion and fate has smiled on me and delivered my beautiful little kitten.” I looked at her wonderingly. She was so pretty. Finally, I turned to Jimmy with a grin and said, “I shall name her Pussy Wussy.”

Jimmy burst out laughing. “That’s sure a cute name, boss. I’m sure that you will be very happy together.”

“Well thank you very much Jimmy.” I beamed. “I’ve always really liked you, you know.” I reached in my inventory and pulled out a bunch of runes. “Here, take these for your trouble.”

#

The next morning I logged into the tower where I had logged out the previous night. I was on the top floor and it was the most wonderful day. The swallows flitted past outside the windows. I threw open the mullioned glass to let the day in and I heard the rustling of the leaves from the treetops of Burnham forest just below the level of the tower. It brought joy to my heart. I yawned and stretched wide. I looked at the lump hammer and the anvil and I thought that I wouldn’t do any forging today. Instead, I wanted to go out and about and see who I’d bump into. I felt in need of human, or nonhuman, company.

Then I remembered Pussy Wussy. I ran through to my living room and there she was sitting in a pool of sunlight by the window. “Oh, my beautiful Pussy-Wussy!” I hugged her tight to my chest. “Do you want to come for a walk?”

She looked at me with her big amber eyes and I didn’t know what she was thinking, but on such a lovely day, everyone wants to go for a walk! I thought that next time I was in one of the big cities, like Vinab or Salonika… I frowned. Vinab had banned me for murdering their mayor. I scratched my head. I would have to make amends somehow. But in any case, I would buy Pussy Wussy the most wonderful jeweled collar and leash.

I tripped down the stone steps of the tower with a light heart. Pussy-Wussy skipped down after me. I entered my store and thought how splendid the runes looked gleaming in the Light spell. I unlocked all the heavy bolts and ratchets on my store door and wondered why on earth I bothered to keep it so heavily protected? I could spare a few runes if anyone came looking for them.

I stepped out of the cold stone tower and into the forest and stooped down to pick the spring flowers that bloomed there, red yellow, and blue. I brought them up to my nose and savored the wonderfully clean smell of the season. I stared around, delighted at the beauty I saw at every corner. Pussy Wussy frisked around my ankles.

And then one of my gnome slaves came round the corner. He stopped dead when he saw me and appeared to be trying to back away as if he would run the first chance he got.

“Hey now!” I called. “Where are you going?”

The gnome looked at his feet. I could see him trembling as if he was frightened of me. This wouldn’t do.

“Nowhere, master. I wasn’t going anywhere. Sorry. I’m sorry if I’ve displeased you master.”

I laughed out loud. “No, you haven’t displeased me, you cheeky young fellow.”

I walked over to him and mussed his curly brown hair. “How’ve you been, Jack?”

“Jordan, master. Begging your pardon master.”

I chuckled. “No need to be so deferential, Jordan. What’s important is how you’re doing on this fine day.”

He sighed. “We’re getting over Shadrach’s death. As a family, we’re coping.”

“Shadrach?” I furrowed my brow.

“You cut off his head the other day, when you were forging your sword.”

I frowned. I did remember doing that. That was pretty sad. Never mind, I didn’t want to dwell on gloomy things. I changed the subject. “How long have you worked for me anyway, Jordan?”

“I think you purchased me two years ago master and I’ve been digging your minerals from the Emerald Mountains ever since.”

“And a grand job you’ve done of it! And to think I only pay you beer!”

The gnome muttered, “And even the beer’s run out now.”

“What! The beer’s run out? Well we can’t have that. Not at all.” I studied the gnome carefully. There were bags under his eyes and he looked very thin and his clothes were threadbare. I shook my head sadly, what on earth had I been thinking to treat these gnome slaves so badly? A pang of shame shot through me. “Listen, Jordan. Why don’t you take the week off?”

“Take the week off, master? Like you mean take the week off?”

I chortled. “I thought you gnomes were supposed to be clever. Yes, take a week off.”

“You’ve never given us a week off before master. In fact you never given us any time off at all.”

“Well that was the old me, Jordan. Things are going to be a whole lot different around here from now on.” I glanced at the beautiful sky and the fluffy white clouds. Rabbits were playing at the forest edges. What beautiful little bunnies they were. I looked back at the ill-looking gnome. “No, this is the new me, Jordan. And how are you off for money?

“Money, master? I don’t have any money.”

“Well you just wait here for a second.” I waggled my finger at Pussy-Wussy. “And you stay with him, you naughty kitten.”

With that, I ran off to the tower. I went through the storeroom, unlocked the heavy door to my cellar, once again wondering why I had gone to such precautions when the world was so wonderful. I hurried down the steps into the ingots store and I looked at what I could give that cheeky little gnome. My eyes fell upon the stash of gold ingots that I had there. I picked one up, then I thought: no, dammit. That little guy deserves more than one gold ingot.”

I picked up two gold bars and with one in each hand, I scurried my way up the stone steps and out into the daylight again.

Jordan the gnome was waiting there for me. He was still trembling. The thought occurred to me that perhaps he’d been so afraid of me that however much he wanted to, he hadn’t dared to leave. That would not do at all.

“Here.” I thrust first one gold bar and then another into his waiting arms. The little fellow could hardly carry them.

“Off you go then, Jordan.I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than talk to a grumpy old man like me.”

Just as he was turning to leave, I thought I heard him breathe a sigh of relief. That was a terrible indictment of the old me. That these little guys had been so terrified of me, their master. How terrible.

He was just disappearing up the woodland path towards the hovels the gnomes lived in near the mines when I called after him, “So, you say the beer’s run out?”

He turned and nodded.

“Well,” I said. “I’ll go and see Old Tom in Salonika about that. We’ll get you beer, don’t you worry.”

Jordan the gnome disappeared out of sight. I turned, still smiling, my heart warmed by the affection I felt for all my workers. I wished now I’d told Jordan to give them all the week off, but I could tell that when I came back with the beer.

I strolled down the yellow brick Road that led from my tower, Pussy Wussy at my heels, until it joined the Icknield way. The Icknield way was a wide stone road paved in honey colored limestone. For the first time in a long time, I thought what a wonderfully beautiful place the World of the Greenwood was. I lifted my head, and I shouted to the sky, “Thank you developers! I regret all those tickets I put in and all the snarky comments I made when you came to sort out my problems. If I could, I would take it all back now.”

I ambled my way along the Icknield Way toward the Pirate City of Salonika. It was there just outside the city walls that Old Tom had his ramshackle brewery. I know his beer wasn’t the best in the land but it was the cheapest, and that had been the motivation for the old me. I’d wanted to get everything cut-price, and I didn’t mind if my workers got the worst quality ale as long as I saved a penny or two, but things would change now.

I hadn't been walking over twenty minutes--I could have flown, but I wanted to enjoy the walk -- when I heard a kerfuffle ahead. I stopped and listened. It was the unmistakable sound of combat. What's all this then? I mused to myself. My hand instinctively went to my sword hilt, but then I told myself: just relax. Most problems can be solved by talking. Just a genial chat would, in nearly every case, diffuse even the most violent situation.

I strolled on, hardly hurrying my pace, Pussy Wussy running behind me, until I came around the corner and I saw an old man being accosted by three dwarves. The dwarves looked to be a mother, father, and a son. They were attacking the old man who was beating them off with a stick.

“Hey!” I yelled at the dwarves. “Surely you can sort all this out without recourse to violence!”

The old man turned, and from under the brim of his floppy hat, I saw the straggly grey eyebrows and watery brown eyes of Old Tom. It seemed a group of dwarf NPCs had taken it on themselves to attack him.

“Fancy meeting you here, Tom.” I yelled. “I was just on my way to see you about the beer. The gnomes tell me they’ve run out.”

Because I had distracted Tom, he unfortunately got punched in the face by the father dwarf.

Such bad manners appalled me. I turned and told Pussy Wussy to wait out of harm’s way and I walked briskly over to where the dwarf stood, planning to give him a good talking to about the virtues of peace and reconciliation, when the son dwarf hurled a large rock at my head. It slammed into my temple and my HUD flashed up that I had suffered 10 hit points damage. I raised my hand to the wounded temple and felt the trickle of warm blood beneath my fingers. I turned to the young dwarf to admonish him. “Hey now, sonny Jim. That’s no way to treat your elders.”

My attention was caught by old Tom striking the father dwarf with his shillelagh and knocking him to the ground. It was most odd the family of dwarf traders would suddenly attack a player character, but that’s what must’ve happened. I looked at the trading cart with its two horses, piled with timber and copper ore. This must be Tom’s cart.

Just then a metalworking hammer wielded by the female dwarf struck me on the head and sent me careering forward. I suffered 20 HP damage. Even so, the violence could not dent my good humor that fine spring morning. I turned to the female dwarf and waggled my finger. “Hey now, Mrs. Dwarf. What on earth you think you’re doing?”

A glance to my left showed me that the male dwarf had produced a dagger from inside his brown tattered jacket and had stabbed Old Tom right in the guts.

Tom went down like a sack of potatoes. Ignoring my own wounds, I rushed over to him. I had a healing potion in my inventory and I offered it to him as he lay wounded on the stony ground. I was astonished, and a little upset, when the male dwarf kicked the healing potion out of my hand sending it sailing through the air to smash against s rock.

“Finish him! Kill the dwarf!” yelled Tom. “They won’t stop until they’ve murdered us!”

I looked around and frowned. I could see the hatred and anger on the three dwarves’ faces. From their savage smiles, I think they thought that they’d got the better of us. This was now a life or death situation, and much as I hated violence, it seemed these renegade dwarfs would not be satisfied until they had murdered poor Tom. Poor Old Tom who had never as much as hurt a fly in his long game life.

I pulled Dazzler from her sheath, and her runes glittered in the morning sun, muttering to themselves, seeking blood and souls. I was sorry about their attitude but I thought that if I hit the dwarves with the flat of the blade, they would run off and everything would be fine.

Seeing me draw the sword, the three dwarves launched themselves at me in a furious attack. I had meant to strike the female dwarf with the flat of Dazzler’s blade, but the evil Runesword had its own intentions and struck her with its sharp edge, causing her massive damage. The four elemental runes all triggered. The female dwarf staggered back in agony, her hands to her face, and collapsed and died.

“Oops!” I said to Old Tom who lay groaning on the ground. “I forgot that Dazzler is evil by alignment. I’ll be more careful in future.”

I turned just as the male dwarf stabbed me in the back. My armor absorbed much of the damage and his dagger snapped against my invisible chain-mail. However, he had done me a little harm as my HUD reported. Before I could do anything about it, Dazzler pulled my arm around and with a brief snicker-snack decapitated the unfortunate dwarf.

I looked at my Runesword, blood running over the glowing runes and hissing as the runes’ magical energy converted the blood to a brown mist. “Now, now, Dazzler. You shouldn’t have done that, you naughty sword.”

I turned to old Tom and pulled out another healing potion, handing it to him. The old chap guzzled at it and soon was in glowing health again. “Stop that kid!” he pointed at the fleeing dwarf boy.

The kid had almost got away. I shrugged. Old Tom must mean to take care of him now he was an orphan. He might give him an easy job in the brewery and over the years build him up as his successor. I imagined the life of success and prestige that awaited the young dwarf boy under Old Tom’s care.

My Boots of Flying launched me after the dwarf boy and I grabbed him by the scruff of the neck before he got too far down the Icknield way. Tears were streaming from his face and snot from his nose. He struggled terribly in my grip, but I was strong and held him, taking him under my arm for his own good. He kicked and flailed his legs and arms but I took him to Old Tom and placed him in front of the decrepit brewer.

“Here you are Tom,” I said. “Here’s the little fellow. I hope you’ll take good care of him.”

Tom eyed me warily. “Are you all right, Harald?”

“Never better, Tom.”

“It’s just that you seem to be acting rather out of character.”

I blushed and said, “I know I’ve been rather difficult over the years, and it must’ve been hard doing business with me…”

“Too fucking true,” Old Tom muttered.

I raised my hand to accept the blame. “I’m really sorry Tom, but things will be different from now on. How much do I pay you for the beer?”

“You pay me two gold pieces per keg.”

I scratched my head. “That seems a very low price. I’ll give you five gold pieces per keg from now on.”

Tom shook his head. “There’s definitely something wrong with you. But never look a gift horse in the mouth as they say.” He spat on his dirty palm and held out his hand to shake on the deal.

Without any hesitation, I grabbed his horny hand and squeezed. “And if I can do anything to make your life any better, Tom,” I said, “you just let me know.”

Tom raised his eyebrows but said nothing.

I pointed at the dwarf boy who was sniveling in Tom’s grip. “And what do you plan to do with this lad? I suppose you’ll be giving him a choice job in the brewery?”

Tom looked puzzled for a second then his face cleared and he said, “Oh yes, he’ll be my apprentice. Don’t you worry about that.”

“By the way, I was coming to see you about the beer delivery. Can I get some more delivered this evening?”

Tom sucked his teeth. “I don’t think I can manage this evening,” he said. “What about tomorrow morning?” He flinched slightly when he said that, and I remembered the old me had been prone to outbursts of murderous rage when anyone didn’t meet my instant demands. I put my hand on his shoulder. I wasn’t like that anymore.

I chuckled and said, “Sure, Tom any time you like. My only concern is my poor gnome friends are getting thirsty.”

“Poor gnome friends?” Tom spat on the ground. “Whatever you say, Harald.”

I turned to go. “Take care of the lad. It’s a pity about his parents. If you need any cash to help with his upbringing, just let me know.”

I walked back towards my tower, scooping up Pussy Wussy to tuck her under my arm then I chanced to look over my shoulder. I couldn’t see the dwarf boy now. Tom must have realized the kid was tired and suggested he go lie down in the cart. I saw Tom had mounted the cart and taken the reins. He was turning round to take it back to Salonika. The cart did have the look of dwarf manufacture and I didn’t remember Tom having such a cart but perhaps he’d bought one since I last saw him.

I raised my hand to wave. Tom raised his in response and I saw it was dripping in blood. That was odd.

As I walked back to my tower with Pussy Wussy, I tried to remember when I first met Tom years before when I started playing the Greenwood. At that time he’d been an Assassin. I think he’d actually specialized in extortion. How times change.

#

I logged off when I got back to my tower. I realized I had lots of things to do in the real world. I decided to go and see my old mom and take her some flowers. I hadn’t seen her for months if the truth be known. I also wanted to do a project for the neighborhood kids just to let them know how much I appreciated them. My probation officer was such a softie, I was sure she’d let me.

The next day, I was late logging back into the Greenwood. When I appeared in my tower storeroom I immediately went over to pet my little kitten who basked in the morning sun spilling through the mullioned tower windows. I strolled downstairs and saw I’d left the doors unlocked to the vault. I clapped my hand to my mouth and giggled. Luckily I hadn’t been robbed. I didn’t want to be robbed because I’d devised a plan to distribute my wealth evenly amongst those player characters who were less fortunate than myself.

I wandered outside to take in the morning air and saw the beer delivery had arrived and the kegs were stacked neatly against the honeyed stone of my tower wall. Good old Old Tom; you could always rely on him. I wandered up to the tumbledown hovels of the gnomes, cupped my hands to my mouth, and shouted for them to come out and get their beer. “Take what you want. It’s all on me. And remember no work for another week!”

As they emerged from their hovels, I must admit they still looked a little nervous and that made me feel bad again. But they scampered past me and fetched their beer, guzzling it down in pewter tankards they’d brought with them. It was amusing to see the foamy ale running down their funny little faces. Then they scurried away with their retrieved kegs, and went into hiding again as if in fear of being punished.

Later on, I was in the tower reading my runebooks when the silver bell tinkled to say that, once again, I had a customer. How I love customers! With a great big smile on my face, I hurried down the stone steps of the tower and into the rune showroom. There was my old friend the druid Biróg. Then I remembered I’d killed her last time we met and frowned.

Biróg came into the showroom, protected behind a fey cocoon she’d summoned that shimmered and glittered as a spinning wall of silver and white particles. Behind her was a faun and a dryad. A sprite hovered at her shoulder.

I held my hands up. “Biróg, my old friend. I am so sorry how we parted last time.” I gestured at her companions. “Given the history, I can see perfectly well why you’ve come with summons, but can I assure you I’m a completely different guy now, Biróg?”

“You’ve got my cat, Harald Runestorm.” Her eyes narrowed in hatred and suspicion.

“Oh that little girl, my darling Pussy Wussy. I’ve been stroking her this morning, and she was purring like a traction engine. I’m so happy she’s come into my life.”

“Well, I want her back.”

A fleeting look of sorrow crossed Biróg’s face. For the first time I imagined what it must be like to be her – to have loved that little kitten as much as I did and have lost her. It made me sad. I was torn; I wanted to make Biróg happy but how could I now be parted from my little Pussy Wussy?

I frowned slightly. “Oh, Biróg,” I said. “I know it’s been a short time, but I can’t express how fond I’ve become of Pussy–Wussy. Is there anything else you’d rather have?”

“I want her back. Nothing else, just her!” Biróg looked really angry now.

I backed away. I would certainly consider her request; the last thing I wanted to do was to upset her more when I owed her for horribly slaughtering her on Ermine Street. “Listen Biróg,” I said. “I want to make you happy. Let’s go outside. It’s a lovely day and I’ll make you a cup of tea. We can just sit there in the sun and talk this through.”

She hesitated for a second and looked around at the storeroom. I knew what she was thinking. The old me would have thought like that too. I would be thinking that outside would be a better place, because here in my own tower, if I was so inclined, I would have the advantage in any combat. But that was the last thing on my mind. I wanted to make her a lovely cup of Earl Grey tea in my finest bone china tea set. And I had seed cake in the pantry too.

I showed her and her entourage out. I could tell they were all a little wary. Behind the tower was a wooden table and some chairs. I used to use it years ago just to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine on a beautiful day, but that was before my heart darkened. As we walked into the small garden with its beautiful flowers and its birdsong, I couldn’t believe I’d given this up in favor of a life over a burning forge coveting only money and revenge.

I gestured, drawing out the chair. “You sit here, Biróg.” I glanced around her entourage. “And would the dryad and fauns like any tea?” I didn’t think spites liked tea, or I would have offered it some. Biróg looked at the forms and the dryad and they shook their heads without speaking.

“You just wait here.” I had thought I would get the gnomes to make the tea and bring the cake but then I remembered that given them all the week off. I would have to go make it all myself. I didn’t think Biróg would mind sitting in the garden because the surroundings were so lovely, and I would try to be the quickest I could be.

I haven’t been in the kitchen for a long time. But as I stood there in the damp stone room, I quite enjoyed boiling the water and pouring it on the Earl Grey leaves. The scented vapor tickled my nose and I laughed. Then I got the milk from the ice room, and brought it all out on a silver tray. I put the bone china cups and saucers with their lovely blue patterns on the wooden table. I saw Biróg looking at my teapot. It was tall in the shape of an Eastern Sea Dragon and beautifully cast in silver. “Nice isn’t it?” I said.

She shook her head and frowned.

I picked up a cube of sugar with my delicate sugar tongs. “One sugar or two?”

“Two,” muttered Biróg. “Now, about my cat.”

I plopped two cubes of sugar into her cup. “Drink your tea first Biróg. Don’t let it get cold. Then we can talk.” I put my hand on hers. “I want you to be happy. Please believe that.”

She snatched her hand away and shook it like it had been slimed by a leprous slug. Biróg frowned again. I could tell that she wasn’t believing the new me, but given the man I’d been, I didn’t blame her. It would take time to win people round and prove to them I’d really changed.

She picked up her tea and sipped did it but put it quickly down.

I frowned. “I hope there was nothing wrong with the tea?” She might think I’d poisoned it. It was something I would certainly have done in the old days.

“No.” She shook her head. “It’s just a little hot.”

The sunlight caught her dark hair and I saw how lustrous and beautiful it was. I couldn’t help it. I leaned forward and took a lock between my thumb and fingers. “How do you get your hair so healthy and straight?”

She knocked my hand away. Then she gave a little sulky shrug and said, “It’s just my own concoction.”

“Berries and things? Maybe some mushrooms?”

She nodded. “I make it up myself from the herbs I pick. I only use the freshest ingredients. And completely natural. I can let you have some if you’d like?”

I smiled. I’d really like that. I pulled on my own hair. It was lovely but it really could do with a good conditioner.

Then her glance fell on my hand. I was wearing the +5 Ring of Empathy that I got from the Druids’ treasure box. I remembered I’d stolen the ring and felt ashamed. It gleamed in the sunshine.

Some kind of realization dawned on Biróg. “Ah,” she said. “So that’s where that went.”

“The ring?”

She nodded. “That ring was supposed to be a gift for a Ranger friend of mine.

“Oh the rangers! I do love those hearty outdoor chaps. Always swinging through the trees and beating their chests, living a healthy life dressed in greens and browns. It must be wonderful to be a Ranger.”

“Yes, he’s called Barcud. Do you know him?”

“No, I don’t. Is he new?”

“Yes, he’s relatively new. He’s running the new village of Pennred up by the Ford of Dreams.” She clapped her hand suddenly to her mouth as if she’d said too much, but she was among friends. The fauns and dryads gamboled about on the lawn behind her, picking daisies.

I smiled. “Yes, I heard that the rangers were building a village there. Jimmy the Zit told me.”

Her brow darkened. “That scumbag.”

“Now, now, Biróg. He’s got his evil ways, I know, but he’s not a bad guy.”

“Oh, yes he is. He is the worst of the worst – a filthy little Halfling thief.”

I frowned. I couldn’t be angry with her, but I felt she was being unkind to Jimmy. She wasn’t giving him a chance to show his thoughtful side. I changed the subject. “So you were saying that this ring was a gift?”

"Yes, it's +5 Wisdom."

I nodded. "That's why I'm wearing it. I was so unwise before. My willpower save, though good, wasn't as good as it could be. And I didn't have a +5 wisdom stat item all. So you can see why I took it."

“You know what other quality it has?” She studied me carefully.

I shook my head. “I don’t really understand – I think it was something called empathy? I’d never really heard of that before.”

“No,” she mused. “I bet you haven’t.”

I was in a dilemma. I really liked the ring. I admired how it sparkled as it caught the sun. But, then Biróg wanted it as a present for her friend. Maybe she’d told him, or maybe it was a surprise. Either way, it’s wrong to disappoint people. Sadly, I said, “So do you want it back? The ring – for your friend the Ranger.”

“I thought I did.” She frowned. “But now I’m not so sure.”

I went to take the ring off. “Here, have it.”

But she stopped me before I could remove the ring from my finger. It was my turn to be puzzled now.

“Maybe you should keep it,” she said. “It seems to have worked remarkable a change in you Harald Runestorm.”

I nodded. “I feel so wonderful now.” I gestured at the forest around me. “For the first time in years I see the true beauty of this place. We are so lucky to inhabit this world.”

Biróg drained her tea and stood.

“What? Going so soon?” I stood out of politeness.

She said. “Yes I think I’ll be on my way.” She strolled through the garden gate towards the yellow brick road then turned. “You’d better keep the ring, Harald, but I’d love it if you’d send my cat back to me.”

I frowned again. I knew it was what she really wanted, but to let Pussy Wussy go would break my heart in two.

She saw my hesitation. Kinder now she said, “Will you promise me you’ll send her back, Harald ? I can see that you do love her, so maybe if you keep her until the end of the week?”

Only the end of the week. A tear welled up in my eye. But if Biróg really wanted little Pussy Wussy back then she should have her, no matter how hard it was for me. Lately, I’d realized true happiness only comes from serving others.

With Biróg gone, I mounted the stairs to my tower again and went to the library. I lay on the sofa of antique bear leather, and stroked Pussy Wussy as I looked out at the bluebirds flitting past the open windows of the tower. But I was unsettled. If the ring was really intended to be a gift for this Ranger then it was a terrible thing for me to have stolen it. I know she’d said I should keep it but my conscience wouldn’t let me. I got an envelope from my writing desk and I whistled for a messenger. The dove fluttered through the open door and landed with a click of its claws on the desk waiting to take my letter.

I sighed. It was the least I could do to let Biróg have the ring back. I wrote Biróg’s name and address: Biróg the Druid, Avalon Forest, The Greenwood. That should do it. I slipped the ring from my finger placed it in the envelope and sealed the envelope with my red wax seal. Then the dove took it winging its way back to Biróg.

#

A minute later, I had a headache. It must be something to do with taking off the fucking ring. I picked up a glass vase from the windowsill and hurled it at the wall, smashing it into a thousand splinters. The kitten that had been sitting on the leather sofa shrieked in alarm and ran off to hide.

I ran after it heaving the sofa over so I could get to it. The stinking pissing bag of mange was cowering, looking up at me with its big amber eyes. If it wanted mercy, it was staring at the wrong Runesmith. To think I’d liked this mangled moth-eaten, shitty ball of fur. I grabbed it by the scruff of its neck and held it up to my face and screamed at it. So, Biróg wanted her cat back. Well, she could have it back. I whistled for a dove.

This time I told it, it was parcel delivery. It sent for another dove to help it. I rummaged through my desk and brought out a wooden box. I placed the box on the table, and took the lid off and attempted to stuff the kitten into the box. But the thing squirmed and wriggled and the box was too small. I tried every which way, cursing at the fucking animal. Eventually, I realized what I had to do. I grabbed the cat and pressed it against the table with my left hand. With my right hand I pulled out Dazzler. The runes muttered in greedy anticipation. I raised the Runesword above my head and brought it down, cleaving the kitten in half. Now it was in pieces I managed to fit the cat into the box, and, wiping my bloodstained hands on my cloak, I wrote Biróg’s address on the top of the box. The doves picked it up between them and fluttered away with it taking the dismembered cat to its mistress.

And that was that.

Except I promised to tell you of the life lesson I learned from this incident. There were two lessons in fact:

- the first is don’t mess with Druid shit—it’ll fuck up your head;

– and the second is, if you want to mail a kitten, remember to get a big enough box because if you have to cut them in half, the blood makes a real mess of your room.

Dear Reader,

Firstly, no kittens, dwarfs, or gnomes were harmed in the making of this story.

Secondly, if you liked the story, could you help me out by writing a positive review on Amazon?

If you didn’t, that’s a pity and I hope we can part as friends. I’m just a guy trying to entertain people, and if I didn’t manage that, I’m sorry.

GW.

If you want to get advance notice of my new stories and stuff, why not join my mailing list?

http://eepurl.com/cDVnBn

Other stories set in The World of the Greenwood MMO include:

A Player in the Greenwood (slightly more serious)

Not set in the Greenwood or LitRPG, but you might like my comedy fantasy

The Horrid Tragedy of the Counts Berok


The Runesmith

A Bad Man Gets Badder My name is Harald Runestorm. In real life, I help children with their homework and volunteer in a library project for homeless refugees (due to a probation order), but in my spare time, I log into the World of the Greenwood and kill people for fun. Sometimes I torture them too, and I generally rob them, but other days I stay in my tower and craft things. One day, from a shady informant, I heard about a shipment of ore going through the woods. It seemed the Druids Guild was taking its gold to market, so I thought I’d take it off them. I’ve always hated hippies, with their 'respect the woods' and 'pet butterflies' attitude to life. I wanted them to respect my sword and pet my fist. My Runefist that is. With their face. I went down to the woods to teach them a lesson about pain and loss. Then I learned a lesson myself. A LitRPG short story (15,280 words!) set in The World of The Greenwood MMO. Caution: The Runesmith is light hearted so if you don't like light hearted, or short stories or LitRPG (or any combination thereof), don't read.

  • ISBN: 9781370043767
  • Author: Galen Wolf
  • Published: 2017-03-10 21:50:11
  • Words: 15339
The Runesmith The Runesmith