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Willow had just been given the most impossible task that she could imagine. She had to somehow summon her fylgja, her companion, her pet, and she had no idea how to do that.

Frustrated, she threw the elemental bolt at the training dummy again.

[You hit the Training Dummy for 22 damage]

Trainer: You’ve already shown me your %element attack. Now I want to see your fylgja attack the dummy.

Trainer: You can summon your fylgja by reaching into your feelings.

Great... And with the lack of actual game guides for this game, she couldn’t just search for them and get another clue or a step-by-step guide.

Willow sighed. Fine.

‘Reach into your innermost feelings’, that was what the trainer kept telling her. No other clues.

But just imagining any pet, after having raised Mira in Destruction of Elysium, after knowing that she wouldn’t be able to celebrate Mira growing to her next stage together with Violet at her side in just a couple more hours, she didn’t really feel like summoning some random creature in this game too.

She wanted Violet back. She wanted to go back to DoE and play with her friends. She wanted to feel safe again. She didn’t want this constant fear and feeling so lost. She wanted to go back to how it used to be.

Maybe she should just tell Soleil to find someone else. She wasn’t cut out for this. This exploring and finding out things, finding missing people, constantly being aware that this could be her last moments in this game too.

A small sound pulled her attention. It was in the game, but it wasn’t there before and somehow it didn’t seem to be affected much by the settings. This was something new.

Willow opened her eyes, not even realising she’d closed them, and in front of her was a dragon. It was pretty small, maybe the size of a large cat, but it was definitely a dragon, and it was looking up at her.

It opened its mouth and let out a cry. Like it was asking for help, like it was asking for something, anything.

Willow knelt in the frozen grass, reaching out to the small creature. “Hello, little one.” She didn’t know why she spoke to it, she hated talking, but it felt right. She put her hand on the small scaly head.

The dragon’s scales were a deep black that looked a little purple in the light. It had a strong body, a fine snout, sharp claws, a spiky tail and something that looked like folded wings on its back. It was cute as much as it looked fierce.

The dragon put its head to her hand, a low rumbling vibrating against her skin. It was purring? This seemed a lot like purring.

“Are you my fylgja?” The word felt strange in her mouth, the sound unusual. She touched the rest of the dragon. Its scales were warm. Not hot or cold, just warm, like a human body kind of temperature. Interesting.

The dragon let out a happier sound this time, walking a little closer, pushing its snout against her legs.

“I guess you are. And how am I supposed to make you attack that dummy? You look way too cute for that.” She stared at the dragon some more, then she stood up. “You’re not cuddly and soft, like I normally prefer, but you’re cute and warm, I like that too. Now, to complete this quest, I need you to attack that dummy.” She pointed at it.

The dragon looked at the dummy and then at her.

“Attack the dummy.” She pointed at it again.

How was a baby dragon the size of a cat going to be helpful in this game?

The dragon took a couple of steps towards the dummy, opened its mouth and let out a fire blast that engulfed the whole dummy.

[The Training Dummy receives 50 damage]

Oh, wow. Okay... That was a lot more than she expected.

Trainer: Great job! Your fylgja has a great attack. Do you want to name your fylgja?

Meadow: Sure.

She couldn’t keep calling it ‘dragon’, and fylgja was kind of weird too.

A small screen popped up.

Name:

Race: Dreki

Lvl: 1

That was the level 1 attack? Wow. She couldn’t wait to see the attack at higher levels.

What would be a cool name for the dragon? This was always the hard part. Naming things.

“What do you think of Iris? Your scales are a little like a very dark iris.”

The dragon walked back up to her, rubbing against her, like Mira did a lot in DoE. It was so cute.

“I guess Iris is a good name. Yes.” She knelt down, wrapping her arms around Iris. “And you’re so nice and warm.” Which was a given really, with such a fire attack. But in this cold world, the heat from Iris was a welcome change.

The small screen reloaded.

Name: Iris

Race: Dreki

Level: 1

And then it disappeared.

Trainer: Congratulations! You’ve passed the tests, here is the flask that the captain asked for.

[+ 100 xp]

[You receive Captain’s Flask]

A small victory sound played, but she no longer paid attention to it because as the quest completed, her bar at the bottom of the screen also filled up. The first button was [Ravage], the second [%Element Bolt] and the third [Summon Fylgja].

Interesting... Now she was actually able to attack things. But as with most of this game, it was so linear and frustrating to get to the next step. At least this part was done now. She was pretty sure that the next step would be to go fight some wolves or something, or one of the other collecting quests that the draugr captain asked for.

Only, she was kind of tired of Helheim Fallen now. Having Iris at her side made her miss her friends in DoE even more and that was a constant reminder that Violet had been in HF too and had disappeared. Willow wasn’t here just for fun, she was here because she had a goal, she had to figure out what happened to the missing people and she had to do it fast.

She opened the menu again, trying to decide what to do next. She could go back to the normal world, but what was she going to tell Soleil about what she’d found here? Just a game, much too linear for her taste, but nothing else odd going on? She couldn’t do that. She had to bring something back with her, no matter how small.

Willow tried to figure out where she could find the time of the outside world, since the play time timer didn’t really help her if she couldn’t remember at what time she came into the game. But nothing seemed to work.

She sighed, then pulled up a keyboard, which seemed to work in this game too. Good. She punched in a couple of keys and pulled up a small command screen.

Global time: ‘42 - 05 - 25 00:27

Local time: ‘42 - 03 - 25 01:27

System: Sleep impending

This was her own little program within the BASE platform, her own way to get a quick view of the time and what type of system messages her BASE account was going to throw at her. She had to go to bed, or the BASE platform was going to be annoying, soon-ish. Right.

She didn’t have much of a choice then, did she? She was up well past her normal bedtime and would be a wreck tomorrow if she kept going. But she hadn’t gotten anything interesting to show Soleil or any clue as to how she could find Violet or the other missing people.

But that would have to wait until she woke up again.

Willow closed the screen and knelt down, running her hand over Iris’ head.

“I’ll be back tomorrow. I promise. But I’ve got to go now.” She looked at the cute little creature. Was she going to grow up like Mira did in DoE, or was this the final size of the dragon? She thought that Norse dragons tended to be bigger. But maybe it would grow as it gained levels or something. Which would be cool. “Later.”

She pulled up the main menu and logged out, everything around her going black and fading away.

***

Willow squinted as she slowly opened her eyes. Her whole body felt heavy with sleep, which she hadn’t felt as much while she was in the game but became obvious as she left it. The room around her was much too bright for her liking. And, just as she thought it, the room around her darkened some. The BASE system sensing her feelings and emotions and adapting the world around her to it.

She really should go to sleep, but after everything just now, she had to check in on her friends and with Soleil first. She opened the chats. First, the one from the guild.

Opal: Willow? Where are you?

Opal: Willow?

Sage: Willow? Please send a message.

Sage: Come on.

Sage’s last message was from twenty minutes ago.

Willow: I’m here.

She scrolled up the chat, but nothing stood out as to why they would be worried about her.

Opal: Good! Don’t scare us like that, please.

Willow: What’s going on?

Sage: I think it’s better if we talk in VRHome...

That didn’t sound good.

Willow: Why?

She kind of wanted to go to sleep and she still had to talk to Soleil, check in with her too.

Opal: Just, please?

Willow: Sure, give me 10 minutes. I need to get a drink before I go in.

Sage: Okay. Sure. See you in a moment.

What was going on? Why were her friend so worried? And why didn’t they want to talk about it in the chat?

But as she stood up, she realised she really did have to get something to drink, she was thirsty. As she left her bedroom, she pulled up Soleil’s chat.

Willow: I’m back.

She walked over to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water.

Rotnem: Good. Glad you’re back out safe. Did you find anything?

Willow shook her head, not so happy that she didn’t have much to share.

Willow: Not really. Just that the game is really restrictive in what you can and can’t do while you’re in the beginning area and it’s really annoying.

Rotnem: Yeah, they like the whole ‘fully immersive experience’ where you don’t get to open things up until you’re ‘ready’ for them.

Willow smiled at Soleil’s use of quotes around words. It looked a lot like her own use of them.

Willow: ‘Fully immersive’? More like ‘forced into a set path’.

Willow: You can’t even log out of the game until you’ve accepted all the starter quests. You can’t even log out from the character creation area as far as I could see.

Rotnem: Wow. That’s a lot more severe than I thought it would be. Maybe that’s why...

Willow: What?

Rotnem: People can’t take screenshots or anything in Helheim Fallen, so they can’t share anything visually. But nobody has talked about finding blitzed accounts inside the game either. You’d think that people would see those blitzed accounts, though. And they would talk, screenshots or not.

Willow: You think that people are getting blitzed in the character creation or other instanced areas, instead of the open world?

Rotnem: Basically.

Willow: Makes sense.

It would explain the lack of HF players talking about blitzed players in the starter areas, which is where they would likely show up since most people who did go missing did so within hours of starting the game.

Willow: But if it’s like that, is it even any use that I keep playing? I won’t be able to see anything anyway. They’re gone before we can see them.

Rotnem: I wish. I wish I could pull you out there right now. I would do it in a heartbeat.

Willow: But?

Rotnem: While you were in the game, there have been some... reports.

Willow’s heart started beating loudly. ‘Reports’ and ‘I wish I could’ never went well together, that always meant problems.

Willow: About?

Rotnem: There has been a leak about HF players going missing.

Rotnem: And they found a body, about half an hour ago... A young woman, in one of the slums. Her BASE account was blitzed. She’d frozen to death after she couldn’t get back into her house. They haven’t identified her yet.

It felt like her heart had stopped, the sudden pain in her chest overwhelming.

No way. This couldn’t be true.

She put her hand over her mouth, trying not to cry out, and felt her cheeks wet with tears.

“No.” Her voice shook, as she dropped the glass of water on the floor. The glass shattered and a combination of glass and water went everywhere.

This couldn’t be true, she couldn’t believe that this could happen. This wasn’t happening.

Rotnem: Willow!

Willow: bop

Her fingers on the keys felt strange, unreal, her movements choppy.

Rotnem: I don’t know if it’s your friend. I will find out for you. I promise. I’m only telling you because I want you to know, because I need you to know the reality.

Rotnem: We need to find out if HF is the real cause of these blitzes and you will need to keep playing to get to the bottom of it. Between now and when the game releases, many more people could go missing. Please.

Willow saw the words, but couldn’t think anymore.

It could be Violet. Violet could be gone.

Willow: I need to

Willow: My friends are waiting for me. I’ll be back.

Rotnem: You can’t tell them about what we’re doing.

Willow: I won’t.

But she had to be with her friends. She stared down, at the broken glass on the floor. She should clean it up, she really should, but then she carefully stepped back. She could do it later, not now.

She padded over to her bed and put the VR headset back on. This must have been why Opal and Sage had been worried and trying to get a hold of her.

And she needed them with her, she needed her friends now.

No matter if the girl they found was Violet or not, it could be her just as easily and that scared her.

She needed her friends, she needed to make sure that they were okay. She needed the comfort of their friendship. She needed her allies.

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