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Willow walked down the stairs, finding Sage in the living room on the couch.

“Morning.” She sat down next to Sage, pulling up her inventory and taking a plush hippogriff toy from it, hugging it close.

“Morn,” Sage yawned. “Anything interesting today?”

“Hoping to do some dungeons and get the final items for the boat. What are you up to?” Willow didn’t really feel like moving right now, she rather vegged out on the couch than go do anything. Luckily, she could.

“I should be getting some items for the boat too.” Sage shrugged. “But I’ve got to get to work in three hours...” They looked around the place. “Do you want to run a dungeon together instead?”

Willow shrugged too, a little too comfortable where she was. “We could just go do some farming.” Right now, that would probably be a better spending of her time. She wasn’t as far with her supplies as the others were. Not that she could really do things any faster, since she only had the crafting tables in her room. “Hey.” She looked at Sage, at their odd eyes and their weathered skin.

Sage was a satyr, a wood and mountain creature who were known for their close connection to nature and their love of drinking and parties. Willow had always found it so interesting, the different races that a player could choose from. She was a dryad herself, it fit the type of mage she usually played, someone who was more connected to nature and got most of their powers from being surrounded by trees. Violet was a Naiad, which she explained was because it was cool to play and somehow the race perks made her a better rogue, but Willow always suspected it was because Violet liked looking at herself in every reflective surface she passed and the race kind of... they didn’t wear too much.

“Yes?” Sage smiled, reaching up to tap the tip of her nose. “You got distracted again.”

“Eh. Yes.” Willow blinked. “I’m going to set up the crafting tables in the basement, if there are any empty right now. You want to go gather some things from the garden after that?” She wasn’t up for anything big yet, but just some gathering was fun and didn’t require too much of her energy.

Sage pulled a face. “You’re going to have to wait. Violet and Juniper filled them up this morning before they logged off.”

“I guessed as much.” Willow sat up more, putting the plush hippogriff back into her inventory. “Was worth a try.”

“True.” Sage stood up. “You want to go out back?”

“Yeah.” Willow also stood up. The guild house also had its own patch of garden, and they’d been planting a lot of things that would grow into supplies for the boat in it. Or, at least, the items that wouldn’t take too long to grow. Trees for the wood were too much of a hassle, but the flax only took 48 hours to grow, so they’d been planting them in 6-hour increments, so that they could always harvest something.

As soon as Willow stepped out the door, Mira was pushing her beak against her leg. Willow grinned and petted the small hippogriff. “Hi, sweetie. Did Violet lock you out of the house again?”

Violet tended to do that. Since the coding for baby creatures, especially hippogriffs, actually included pieces that allowed it to ‘eat’ things they found around them or ‘trample’ it and ruin things. It had been fun when Mira was still in her baby phase, but she was now in her third stage, almost getting to juvenile, and the skills she unlocked had been... a little bit more annoying sometimes.

Willow pulled up Mira’s stats screen.

Mira

Creature: Hippogriff

Age: 4 weeks

Time to next stage: 56 hours

Attack: 10

Toughness: 8

Sleep: Low

Hunger: High

Parents: Violet & Willow

“Ah, you just woke up, didn’t you?” Willow reached into her inventory and pulled out a piece of raw rabbit meat. How these things didn’t go bad in her inventory... she didn’t question it. “Time to have breakfast!”

Mira stepped back a little, her head bobbed up and down, her eyes on the piece of meat, her screeching quieted because of Willow’s settings.

Then Willow threw the piece as far as she could. It made a nice arch, but Mira caught it, happily munching. Willow and Violet were both ‘parents’ to Mira. They’d raised her together from when she was an egg and once Mira was big enough, they’d be able to fly her together. Which was awesome. More than awesome, really. There weren’t many hippogriff parents in Destruction of Elysium, as taking care of the egg before it hatched was such a hard job. But between the two of them, they managed it.

As Mira was eating, and tumbling around, Willow turned to the fenced-off patch of garden. They’d put the fence in after Mira destroyed part of their crops one night.

Sage was already looking at the flax, running their fingers through the tops as it waved in the computer-generated wind. “How much do you need?”

Willow checked her list. “No more linseeds, but I need olives.” She pointed to the trees in the back. She had to pick out just the right ones. Not all the olives would be ‘juicy’ ones, no matter how much she helped the trees grow as strong as possible. But this was still better than having to go out and search for olives in the wild.

“Cool. I’ll just get these done then.” Sage pulled a big fork-like tool out of their bag and started pushing it into the ground to loosen the flax roots for harvesting.

Willow went over to the olive trees, running her fingers over the leaves, letting them play against her skin. She loved trees and the feeling of the leaves and flowers. It was one of her things.

She reached up, putting her fingers around an olive and pulled carefully. The ring around the olive turned yellow, and a status bar appeared over it.

Almost ready.

Do you want to harvest it?

She let the olive go, a little too early for that one. She’d still get the XP for harvesting, but it just wasn’t worth it if she didn’t get the right items.

She reached out to another one, this time, as she wrapped her hand around it, it blinked green for a moment and then fell into her hand.

[Olive]
[Ingredient which can be used in food or can be turned into oil for a range of uses]

[Herbalism +5]

[Farming +5]

Bummer. She really needed the high-quality Juicy Olives for this to work, or it would be too much of a hassle to make the olive oil.

She reached out to another olive, with her other hand this time. It also blinked green, and then fell into her hand. Another regular olive. With the quality of the trees and her skill level, she could get a Juicy Olive about one in five or six gathers. And it was really worth it. But that still meant she had a lot of normal olives in her inventory too.

Willow harvested another twenty olives, getting four Juicy Olives from it. She had to try again in six to seven hours, when there would be new ones.

That put her at 281 Juicy Olives gathered for the Titanic Varnish. Almost there now.

She looked around and found Sage planting new flax in the patch, the space now empty. They had a pretty good system going here, planting, gathering, making sure to always have stock to sell.

She walked up to Sage, who looked up.

“I’m going to log off for a bit. I think I need some more sleep.” Willow had been up a lot last night, searching guides on how to complete the final quests she was still working on for Destruction of Elysium and looking at pre-release footage for Helheim Fallen.

Sage smiled at her. “I guessed as much. I’ll be off soon too.” They reached out and a trade screen popped up in front of Willow.

She accepted the trade invite and then a whole bag of linseed appeared in front of her.

“I don’t need them anymore. I’ve got all the ones I needed for the boat.” She really didn’t need more of them right now.

“These are left over from harvesting and I really don’t need them. They’re more use to you, for cooking or selling.” Sage shrugged, still smiling.

“Thanks.” Willow smiled back. “I don’t have anything to trade though.”

“No problem. These are just for you.”

“Okay.” Willow accepted the trade and the linseed appeared in her inventory. That would make her some money, even if it wasn’t that much. Anything helped. Then she turned back to the house. “I’m logging off.”

“See you later.” Sage waved at her.

Willow went back into the house, going up to her room. That was a better place to log off, and she wouldn’t be as disoriented when she logged back in.

She quickly pulled up her character screen, letting her eyes skim over the stats until she found what she needed.

She was almost another level up for her Alchemy. That was good, because it would unlock the final recipes, which included a health potion that could make her quite a lot of money. The recipe required a lot of ingredients but it would be really worth it. Not everyone could be bothered to get their Alchemy skill up this high, because it took a lot of mind-numbing work, but working on the guild boat really helped out with getting more XP.

And after they’d finished the boat, she could sell the potions at a much better price directly to other guilds with their trade boat.

Time to log off.

Willow pulled up the gaming menu and hit the very last button on the screen.

You are now logging out of Destruction of Elysium

Two blinks later, Willow opened her eyes to the white ceiling of her room. She took the headset off and stretched her arms and legs, rolling her shoulders. She put the headset on the table next to her bed, and stood up.

Her bedroom was... pastel coloured. Pastel green, pastel blue... The ‘experts’ on sensory overload issues insisted that pastel colours in the bedroom was the highest level of ‘stimulation’ that people with sensory issues should be exposed to when they woke up. It was this or white, and Willow really didn’t want white walls to go with the white ceiling and the white chair and the white bedside table... It was... so hospital-like.

She took a deep breath and went to the window, putting her fingers to the ‘glass’ in front of her. Currently, it was showing a beautifully rendered image of a sun coming up, since her biological clock assumed that it was morning.

Tapping on the window twice, the glass turned into a menu, showing her all the different ‘safe’ options she had that she could turn the window to. But she scrolled all the way down, hitting the very last button, unlocking the ‘unsafe’ options with her fingerprint, and then scrolled all the way down again, past storms and lava and space stations, until she found the setting she was looking for.

Turn window projection off

She clicked on it.

Are you sure?

‘Yes.’

This will turn off the safety settings on your account

Are you sure?

‘Yes.’ What was it with all the stupid questions about things she already knew? Sometimes it felt like the system wasn’t helping her, instead, it felt like it was trying to keep her locked in a box. A box called ‘safety’. ‘Sensory safe’ or ‘Autistic specialised’ software or settings or even food. It was ridiculous. Like she hadn’t lived in a mostly ‘normal’ world when she lived with her parents.

But this was the world she lived in now. As soon as she turned sixteen, ‘experts’ had moved her out of her parents’ house and into this ‘sensory low’ building. All the people living here had different levels of ‘sensory issues’, and the whole building was set up to support them so that they could be ‘the best they could be’. Basically, it meant constant check ins and the system coddling them.

It was ridiculous. For all the cool things the world had gotten because of the BASE platform and the globally connected system... They were still hiding people away who they felt were ‘different’ and instead of trying to understand them, ‘experts’ insisted that they always knew better. And parents always fell for it.

The window in front of Willow faded dark and then slowly came to life again. Even when she turned the ‘safe’ options off, some were just too hardcoded, like the fading in and out thing.

In front of her, the world was illuminated in grey, the sky in the east was lighter than in the west. From her room, she could see over the wall surrounding the building and the streets and neighbourhoods behind it. It was mostly stupid grey blocks lined up, with windows on them that never actually showed what was going on behind them.

It was right before sunrise. She loved this time of day best. Maybe because her biological clock worked like that, or just because it was the most serene moment of the day.

Would it be warm enough outside to go check it out?

Temperature 2˚C

Okay, that was cold.

Willow went to her closet and put on warmer jeans and a sweater and then grabbed her thick jacket. Cold or warm, she just had to go outside.

She had to go greet the rising of the sun.

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