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Willow logged in to Destruction of Elysium, the world around her bright, much brighter than she expected it to be. As she left her room in the guild house and went downstairs, nobody was around, the house was quiet. It was a little unsettling, to have it be this quiet, then she walked out the back door to the garden.

Mira came up to her immediately, now much bigger than before. Mira was a juvenile now, her shoulders reaching to Willow’s shoulders and her beak bigger than both of Willow’s hands side by side. “Hello, beautiful. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there when you grew up.” She slowly reached out and then wrapped her arms around Mira’s neck as best as she could.

Mira let out some happy sounds, which were luckily mostly muted by the system, because she really couldn’t do loud noises right now.

“I’m sorry. I was looking for your other Mum. I know she hasn’t been around for a while, but I’m trying to get her back.” She hid her face in Mira’s feathers, loving the sensation. This felt so good, it was so soft. “I will get her back for you. I promise.” She tightened her arms around Mira.

Mira nudged her shoulder and Willow stepped back. Then Mira kneeled a little looking at her intently.

“You want me to get on your back? Are you sure?”

Mira was finally big enough to carry one rider at a time. In her adult form she would be able to carry two riders at the same time. But that was going to take a couple of weeks longer. It was so much easier when Violet was here to take care of Mira too, instead of Willow having to do this on her own.

“Okay.” Willow smiled a little, then she tried to figure out what would be the best way to get on top. “I’m sorry if I pull out any feathers.” She reached up into Mira’s neck and grabbed a hand full of them. Then she lifted herself up and the game did the rest, easily putting her on Mira’s back, between her shoulders and her majestic wings.

It felt strange, so different from the horse mount that she sometimes rented when she wanted to go places that the teleportation couldn’t get her.

The next moment, Mira pushed off the ground and they were flying, everything quickly shrinking under them.

She wrapped her arms around Mira’s neck as she looked down. There was this tightness in her stomach at the height. She wasn’t scared of the height, specifically, but she was definitely scared of falling, which was now making her a little dizzy as she saw the ground disappear under them.

Then Mira stopped rising and just flew ahead. The wind in her hair, the great view in front of them. It was amazing and she could barely believe this was in a game and not real life.

She was on top of the world and it was amazing, in so many ways.

“Thank you.” She yelled over the sound of the wind. “Thank you so much.” This had exactly been what she needed, a small escape from the world, just letting go and being away from it all for a while.

Then a message in the chat popped up.

Juniper: Willow, you there?

Willow: Yeah.

Juniper: Good. Just... needed to know it was you.

Willow: I’m here. Just checking in on Mira.

Juniper: Yeah. She’s big now.

Mira slowly started descending, a calm movement, nothing like falling, luckily.

Juniper: Where were you yesterday? When Sage and Opal were looking for you?

She had to lie, but she couldn’t figure out what to say. She didn’t want to lie to her friends and she didn’t want to constantly have to remember what lies she told who.

Willow: I can’t tell. I’m sorry.

Juniper: Were you trying to find Violet?

Willow: Something like that.

Juniper: Okay.

And then the chat fell quiet again.

Willow: Are you okay with that? Just that?

Juniper: Yes. It’s not the same without her, and if she got in trouble... I don’t want to get you in more trouble when you’re trying to help her.

Willow: Thank you.

Mira was now low enough that she could see Juniper sitting on the roof of the guild house. She waved at Juniper as Mira landed. Willow climbed off Mira, her legs a little wobbly as she hit the ground. This was strange, but it was also really cool.

But no matter how much she wanted to stay here, she had to go.

Willow: Can you tell the others not to worry?

Juniper: I’ll try.

Juniper: Don’t do anything stupid.

Willow: Do I ever?

Juniper: Listen when people tell you that? No. But I can try.

Willow: I’m not on my own. I promise. I’ve got people who help me.

Well, she was the one helping others... but that was the same, for practical purposes here.

Juniper: Okay. See you soon.

Juniper: Please, do check in at least once or twice a day.

Willow: Will do.

Willow would do anything to make her friends feel safe and not like she’d just disappeared on them too. She would check in on them at any time that she could, just so they’d know she was still there.

Willow: See you later.

She swiped the menu.

*You are now logged out of Destruction of Elysium.*

The words appeared in her view for a few moments before the world around her went white. She was in the ‘store’ area of the BASE platform. This way she could jump into Helheim Fallen without much trouble. But, before she did, she opened the chat she had with Soleil.

Willow: I’m going back into HF. I’m going to figure this out.

Soleil: Okay.

Willow: My friends are worried.

She’d already told Soleil this when they met just a couple of hours ago, but seeing Juniper reminded her how much her friends really did worry and how much she worried about them.

Soleil: I promise I’ll try to keep them safe and I’m still looking into the Violet thing.

Willow: Thanks.

Willow: I’m going in.

She looked around and focused on the Helheim Fallen logo. The white world around her disappeared and she was standing in a new place she hadn’t been before.

*You are now logged into Helheim Fallen Online.*

When she looked around, she realised that she was standing in the middle of what looked like a galaxy of some sort. It was beautiful, the dark blue and purple hues and the stars all around her. At the side of her view, the stats of her character were visible.

Name: Meadow

Race: Draugr

Class: Seidhr

Level: 1

If she was going to get anywhere, she had to get a move on and raise that level. That was the goal for today, get as far as she could. And, of course, keep her eyes open for any clues about strange things going on in this game.

Anything stranger than the weird world she was in anyway...

***

Willow turned her wrist again, the ball of elemental energy appearing in it easily.

[You cast %elemental bolt]

The bolt flew from her hand at the wolf standing a little away from her.

[You hit the Dire Wolf for 25 damage]

Then, as she waited for her mana to refill a little, Iris attacked the wolf too.

[Iris hit the Dire Wolf for 57 damage]

The wolf went down to the ground, curling up like it was in pain and Willow cringed. Of all the things they made ‘realistic’ in this game, it of course had to be the creatures dying...

[+ 35 XP]

[You’ve reached level 3!]

[+1 Intelligence]

[+1 Wisdom]

Nice!

[Iris has reached level 3!]

[+1 Attack]

It was pretty obvious that Willow was playing a pet class, as Iris was doing a lot more damage than she did, and her mana regeneration was a little on the slow side too, although, Iris’ attacks weren’t the fastest either.

Willow was a frustrated that she couldn’t just check a guide to see how to optimise her class or Iris’ stats. But for now, she could deal with this, it wasn’t too bad. She just didn’t enjoy going in blind.

She opened the main menu, and it showed her that she’d been in here for almost two hours now. Two hours to gain two levels... that wasn’t the fastest gain, especially not this early on in the game. But of course, she’d been having a couple of problems figuring out how to do her attacks between the actual physical movements and the buttons on her bar, and a few other mechanics.

She’d found out that at least for the bolt, it was easiest to just conjure it with a hand movement, even if her wrist was going to hurt from the repetitive movements later on.

Willow walked up to the wolf, taking her skinning knife and sat behind the wolf, reaching over and cutting open its belly. The knife was resisted for a moment, the thick skin of the wolf stopping her, but when she put more pressure behind it, it went through the skin. The next moment she sliced through the belly of the wolf.

It made her shiver as she felt the blood and gore flood over her hand. Luckily, that was the exact moment the game took over and the fur, wolf meat and ‘leftover animal pieces’ appeared in her inventory. Apparently the ‘leftover animal pieces’ were for her dragon to snack on, which was cool. Although, the text on it also made it seem like if she gained enough levels in butchering, she’d be able to find more useful items.

[+25 Butchering]

She was halfway through the wolves she had to kill for one of the captains, and had half the pieces of wolf meat she needed for the butcher in the encampment, which she needed before it would give her the parcel for the quest from the other captain. All fun things...

Although, apart from it being pretty generic, it hadn’t been too bad in the way of the type of quests she had to do. ‘Gather X’, ‘Kill Y’ and ‘Talk to Z’, all pretty standard. But that was also comfortable. It made the game feel a little less scary now she was doing things that she already knew how to do.

Well, comforting apart from the the gory parts that the game somehow loved to be very explicit about. From the decay on draugr characters to the way mobs curled up in pain as they died to the act of butchering… The game’s focus on the pain and gore was a little off-putting.

In the two hours Willow had been playing, she hadn’t seen any other players yet, so she was going to really have to step up her game if she wanted to get anywhere. She was pretty sure that she was in the normal areas now and no longer in the instanced parts. But with people already a couple of days ahead of her, she had to do some catching up.

“Okay, Iris. Next wolf.” She pointed at a wolf standing in the forest a little off to the side. It was just out of range to trigger aggro on her, so it hadn’t attacked her yet, but she had kept her eye on it all the same. She didn’t want to accidentally pull a second wolf while fighting the first, that had been a mistake she’d made earlier on...

As Iris ran for the wolf, Willow pulled up a bolt, throwing it just as Iris let out her own huge flame attack.

[You cast %elemental bolt]

[Iris hit the Dire Wolf for 55 damage]

[You hit the Dire Wolf for 28 damage]

The wolf looked at her, and she knew that the aggro was going to be on her. She hated that, Iris was a lot more sturdy, generally.

[You cast %elemental bolt]

[You hit the Dire Wolf for 26 damage]

[The Dire Wolf hits you for 15 damage]

Ah! No!

[You cast %elemental bolt]

[You hit the Dire Wolf for 27 damage]

[Iris hit the Dire Wolf for 50 damage]

And the wolf went down in a burst of flames, she could feel the heat of them on her skin. Jikes!

[+35 XP]

Fighting in this game was fine, but she was really going to have to do something about those notifications. She could guesstimate how much HP the mobs had left with the health indicator above them, she didn’t need to constantly see the actual damage she was doing to them, especially since it was so distracting in the way it kept popping up.

She grabbed the skinning knife again and reached over the slightly scorched wolf, putting the tip of the blade to its belly. And, again...

There was some resistance, then the blade went through the skin, before she slid it open and the blood and guts spilled over her hand.

She was also going to have to see about maybe changing the settings on that part of the game or she would have to stop being a butcher, because she really hated the feeling of the blood and guts of the fresh kill spilling all over her hands...

After six wolves, she still hadn’t gotten used to it, and thinking ahead, she probably didn’t even want to consider what other creatures she was going to have to feel the insides of. If possible, herbalism and mining were probably going to be more of her thing... maybe.

The whole gross butchering thing had been the other part that was keeping her up. She first hadn’t wanted to believe what she had to do and then she had to overcome her own queasiness every time she had to butcher a wolf. That had been no fun.

She checked her inventory and then looked around. She had no idea how long it took for mobs to respawn, but she probably wanted to move out of this spot before they did...

Probably...

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