18. Lock And Load

Just before I walked through the shed door, I had a sudden urge to make a sharp 180 and go off on my own. Whenever I played an MMO on my computer, I chose to play solo. Online games are designed to be a social activity. You can speak to people as you play, plan out and coordinate your attacks, chat about this and that. You share the highs and lows, the laughter and the tears.

Not me. I liked to explore alone and try to deal with monsters on my own. It took longer but it was just a lot less stressful that way. Of course, I would occasionally join a group to do a dungeon or a raid, but more often than not you’d run into a bunch of arseholes.

People who took the game too seriously, swore and screamed at anyone who made a mistake or didn’t already know the mob attack patterns, and generally used the game as their personal venting platform. And then there was the whining when it came to rolling for loot…

Playing solo meant you could do what you want, make as many mistakes as it took, and generally enjoy yourself without relying on anyone or having anyone rely on you. Much more fun.

But I wasn’t here to have fun. On my PC, if things got hairy I could just try again or logout. Or even complain to the GM and get them to rollback my character. In this world, there was a good chance game over really meant game over. If I wanted to survive, I’d need help. People watching my back, ready to offer me a helping hand when I came up short.

I wasn’t too sure if the idiots I was stuck with would turn out to be those people, but I didn’t think being on my own would have many advantages right now.

I walked through the empty shed and out into the courtyard. The other groups had left. Where they’d gone, I had no idea. My group sat around our now smouldering fire. Maurice cleaned his glasses with the sleeve of his onesie. Dudley hugged his knees while rocking back and forth like a disturbed child. Flossie had a fixed smile on her face, the kind nervous people have when they don’t want others to think they’re feeling nervous. And Claire scowled as she poked the remnants of the fire with her stick.

Perhaps going solo needed some serious reconsideration?

“You’re back,” said Claire, sounding angry. “I thought you’d gone off and left us.”

“Must have been a hell of a dump,” said Maurice. “You took ages”

I ignored them both and dropped my recently acquired items on the ground. Leather scraps, metal junk and some pebbles. I expected them to look at me like a nutter who had brought them trash, but they all stared wide-eyed with amazement.

“What did you do to that?” Maurice pointed at the stick resting on my shoulder. I lowered it to the ground, spiky end down, obviously. The rusty nails really did look nasty.

“Upgrade. Should scare off a few critters. Probably do myself an injury if I try to actually use it in a fight. Flossie, lend me that knife a minute.”

She didn’t hesitate for a second, just took out the dagger and handed it over. How was I ever going to turn this bunch into the cynical, jaded bastard they needed to be to survive?

I used the knife to cut off a piece of leather and gave it to Maurice.

“Use this to fix your shoe.”

He had a broken clasp on his left sandal. He quickly tied it together making the shoe ten times more secure.

“Thanks, man. Really.” He grinned at me. Amazing how the little things make you feel when you have sod all.

“Okay, I want to show you something.”

I picked up my sling and a small stone. I loaded the sling and spun it around my head. I had managed to make it work earlier, but with everyone watching my heart crawled into my throat and the sweat in my palms threatened to let the sling slip out of my grip. If I screwed this up I’d look a right fool.

Fortunately, when I whipped the sling to release the stone, it flew out in the right direction. It went up at a forty-five degree angle so only a good shot if we ever went giraffe hunting, but still good enough to demonstrate the weapon’s use.

The others burst into spontaneous applause.

“Marvellous. Absolutely marvellous,” said Dudley. I think they were his first words since introducing himself.

Their impressed expressions only embarrassed me more. “Er, yeah, anyway, obviously it’ll take practice to get good, but with something like this you can hit the target from far away. A lot safer than hand to hand fighting.”

Using Flossie’s knife, I cut up the other strips of leather and made some more slings. Together with some rags from the box of clothes in the shed, I was able to make one for everybody. They stood there, each admiring their new toy. They didn’t see them as tools of death, but they would.

“Right,” I said. “I reckon we’ve got quite a bit of daylight left. Let’s go hunting.”

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.