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Willow walked around her apartment, trying to kill some time before the new beta keys were sent out for Helheim Fallen. She looked in her fridge, finding some cheese and sausages, but not something to make a full meal. Not that she really needed to worry about that. She’d get some food dropped off at her door soon enough, it was getting close to one of her meal times, but she’d just liked a snack. Another one of those strange things that they did here, private dinner times based on each person’s biological clock.

She let out a sigh, grabbing a slice of cheese and nibbling on it as she got back to her bedroom, to the VR system. She wanted to be close to it if she was going to get a key. So she could immediately download it and everything. You couldn’t do that without a key, another form of protection or something like that. Annoying.

She flopped onto her bed, putting the VR headset on, logging onto VRHome, which was basically a digital living room. A couple of moments later, Violet also came in. They both looked like their DoE characters, probably the favourite characters they played.

“You nervous yet?” Violet grinned, then she pulled the website countdown onto the wall. The wall was now basically one big screen showing the numbers slowly going down, way too slowly.

0:01:45 until new beta keys are sent

They had a couple of minutes left.

“Of course.” Willow shook her head. “What are you going to play as? Have you thought about it yet?”

Violet shrugged. “Something rogue or hunter like or something. That probably works best in HF. You?”

“I’m thinking mage again. Something that makes things go boom.” She put her hands together and moved them as if she was mimicking an explosion and then grinned. Helheim Fallen had been handing out beta keys every week for the last month. The release was only ten days away now, and everyone was getting excited. Like, really excited.

They’d been trying not to get too invested in it all, especially since they were still playing DoE, and they knew that HF probably wouldn’t be better than that, especially since they were so new. But now that the hype was getting so high everywhere, it was hard to stay neutral about it. Especially when the things that were coming out, official and illegal screenshots and everything, looked so cool.

0:01:45 until new beta keys are sent

“Almost.” Violet stared at the wall with the countdown.

Willow’s stomach was trying to eat itself, not from hunger, just from nerves. What would she do if she got a key but Violet didn’t get one? Or what would happen if Violet did get one, but Willow didn’t get one?

0:00:29 until new beta keys are sent

Willow crossed her fingers, locking her jaw down way too hard, but she was just too focused.

0:00:01 until new beta keys are sent

They looked at each other.

Beta keys are sent! See you next week!

She waited, hoping for a sign or anything. Hoping that there would be something to tell her that she got one.

“Whoa!” Violet’s mouth was open, she stared at Willow before moving her hand in front of her, sharing whatever she was seeing. “I got one.” Violet’s voice was barely audible. “I got one.”

Congratulations Violet!

You have won a beta key for Helheim Fallen!

You can find the key in your BASE platform inbox when you reach the store.

Happy exploring!

EC

Willow’s stomach dropped, disappointment overtaking her for a moment. Disappointment about not getting in, disappointment of being left behind.

“Willow.” Violet reached out to her and Willow took her hands.

“Congrats.” She tried to smile, but she knew that Violet could read her.

“Thanks. And don’t worry. I’ll send you private pictures as soon as I can, maybe even videos. Maybe I can live stream.” Violet’s eyes grew, her grin getting bigger. “I promise. I’ll share as much as I can. And I’ll be back later today, we still need to finish the guild boat. Not going to leave you guys hanging for that one.”

Willow hugged Violet. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” She knew that Violet could get so wrapped up in a game that she’d lose all sense of times and then reappear two days later, totally obsessed with a new game.

“I know.” Violet hugged her tighter. “They really don’t allow live streaming there, people have tried. Sorry.”

Willow laughed. Of course, there was that too. “Just show me as much as you can, you know? I’m going to live through you until I get in myself.”

“I promise.” Violet tightened her arms around Willow, then let her go. “Now, I’m going to have to jump. I want to download the game and then quickly do some stuff in DoE and then going to play HF.”

“Go. Go.” Willow smiled. “I’m happy you got the key. Just, stay safe.”

“I will.” Violet smiled. “You, don’t go sulking. Mira won’t like that, and I’m pretty sure you’re behind the rest of us with your parts for the boat.”

“I know, I know.” Willow nodded. “I’ll get on it.” She would. It wasn’t like there was much else she could do right now. It wasn’t like she didn’t have a whole list of things to do in DoE before she started playing HF, especially things that would mean she’d be able to afford HF in the first place. “See you later.”

“Later.” Violet waved at her and blinked out of the room.

Willow sighed. She was happy for her friend, but it was also kind of disappointing that she didn’t get a beta key too, they had signed up at the same time. But there wasn’t anything she could do about it now, not until next week.

She was probably better off playing DoE right now, at least that would distract her from sulking.

Probably.

***

You’re selling 99 Flax for 339 coins each, 33.561 coins in total

Willow was going through her inventory as she checked out the market place, trying to see what she could sell at a profit right now.

You’re selling 99 Flax for 339 coins each, 33.561 coins in total

Selling in stacks of 99 items made things easier to move around. It was a lot of flax, while at the same time not too much that the stack would seem very expensive in comparison to other items around. The game of buying and selling in the market place, knowing when to buy and when to sell.

She searched the market place for regular olives, since she had a lot of them from harvesting. They weren’t selling for much, the lowest stack was just 189 coins each, but it was also the cheapest stack by far. The next cheapest stack was 274 coins each.

She could chance that, 274 coins was pretty low for olives in the market place anyway, so she could sell it up.

She quickly bought the stack of of olives and it appeared in her inventory, adding to what she already had.

[673 olives]

She created a stack of 99 olives and put it into the market place system. Then she priced it at 273, just a join under the lowest one currently selling, but it meant that, without pulling down the price too much, she’d still be the best option for most people. Then she put a second stack at 273 coins each.

She checked her time. Violet had been in Helheim Fallen for four hours now. She’d not heard from her yet, but that wasn’t too unexpected, Violet was probably just having a good time.

Willow put another 99 olive stack in the market place, this time pricing at 299 coins each, if the lower stacks sold out, then she’d be making a little bit more money from them than the lowest price she was pricing at. More money.

She put two more stacks in the market place and then left the rest in her inventory. It wasn’t like she really needed to sell everything off in one go. If she put up too much too soon, she’d be flooding the market too much, which would lead to lower prices, which was bad.

She checked her other offers on the market place, changing the pricing on some of them when they were too far above the current pricing for the items, and then closed the window. Enough of that.

It had been a really good sales day. Just her market place sales got her at least 100 credits into her BASE account, which wasn’t much when most games cost about 2400 credits and getting actual nice food delivered to her place cost her 200 credits every time. It was 250 credits for a pizza, just one pizza.

Anything she wanted that was ‘above basic’, as decided by the government, she had to pay for herself. And selling things in the game was the easiest way to do that, for her anyway.

She went over to her crafting tables, the Titanic varnish and the cedar lumber were going to take at least another thirty minutes before she could make her next items.

Waiting around sucked.

She opened a new message.

Hi Violet!

Hope you’re having fun!

Send me some screenshots!

Later!

Willow

Okay, so, maybe she was just bored because she really didn’t know what to do when Violet was doing something cool and she was just here waiting.

A notification told her that she had a new message. For a moment, she hoped it was from Violet, but it was from Opal instead.

Willow!

Come to the Minotaur dungeon.

I have something really cool to show you!

Opal

She blinked. What would Opal want to show her? Although, maybe he was just trying to distract her.

Sure, on my way.

She sent the message back. He could have said something in the guild chat, but somehow, Opal seemed to prefer actually sending messages.

Willow pulled up the transportation screen and transported herself to the hub nearest to the Minotaur dungeon. From here, it would take her a couple of minutes of walking to actually get to the dungeon entrance.

What did you want to show me?

She was getting a little curious now. There were a lot of players around her, lots of people heading to the dungeon. What was going on?

You’ll just have to see it.

There was nothing that gave any clues to what was going on. She turned her volume of DoE up a little, maybe she could catch something in the chatter from players around her.

First the sounds were little more than mumbling, but as she raised the volume more and more, she could understand actual words.

“I heard they caught someone who stole an account.”

“I heard that they got someone to talk about Helheim Fallen.”

“It’s about the beta keys.”

“It’s about cheating players.”

Apparently, nobody had any clue about what was going on.

Well, that wasn’t too strange. She left the sound on, that was easier to do than to rely on typing when speaking would be so much faster. And no matter what, something big was going on, that was for sure. She hadn’t been the only one called here, and that made her feel out of the loop once again.

When they got to the Minotaur dungeon entrance, she looked around, trying to find Opal. When she spotted him, she went over to him.

“What’s going on?” She opened a private voice chat with him.

Opal blinked for a moment, then he frowned. “We don’t know exactly what it is. But... it’s strange. I thought you may want to see it.”

People were crowding one side of the area, but she didn’t feel like going over there right now. “Can you show it?” The BASE platform had build in ‘memory’ systems, saved game play from the last couple of hours. If someone wanted, they could save bits to their account or it would be wiped after seven hours. The best part was that saved memories could be shared with other people.

“Sure. Just... don’t freak out.” Opal didn’t look too happy.

“Why?” This kind of started to scare Willow.

“Just... Whatever.”

An invite popped up in her view and she accepted it. The next moment, a video started in the middle of her view. This was probably from earlier, though there weren’t many people around back then.

The video went from side to side, and then focused on a single... thing.

“There was an actual player there, just seconds before. Play it back.” Opal sounded almost scared.

She did as he asked, going back to the start of the video. He was right. At the start of the video, someone was mining a node at a rock formation, and just seconds later, that same player lay on the floor, their avatar... bleached almost. It looked strange, more unreal than anything in this game. And before her eyes, the player turned into a blob of black and white, coding running over it, like it broke the visuals of the game or something.

A really bad feeling settled in Willow’s stomach. This was bad, this was really really bad.

It almost looked like a player got erased, right as they were playing.

What was going on? Who did this?

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