Even though the thought of going into HF scared her even more now, she still logged onto the game. While she’d been talking with her friends in VRHome, her thoughts kept going back to Dawn. If Daryl’s comment about law-abiding people was anything to go by, that wasn’t where he was going to stop, and while she was at risk, so was Dawn.
She immediately went to her friends list when she logged on, checking if he was there, but his name was listed as ‘offline’. Which, while inconvenient, was in some ways also a good sign, at least his account was still there.
She hugged Iris, the small dragon a little bigger again. Though, it would take a long time before she was big enough for more than just some hugging. Although, those tiny wings on her back did look promising, if she would ever be able to play this game for long enough...
“Okay, little one, let’s get some quests done and fry some monsters.” She pulled up her quest log and saw that she had to kill a lot of wolves for a quest. That one she easily could do on her own.
As she started to pay attention to her surroundings more, she realised that there wasn’t anyone around. Which made some sense as she’d logged out in the middle of nowhere, but there were suspiciously few people in this area, no matter where she looked. None, to be precise.
There were people online, right?
She pulled up a list of online players and saw thousands of names. So, there were players online. But most of them were listed as being in the capital, not around the other areas... That was... odd, definitely. Was it because of the announcement? Because she’d never seen things like this in other games before...
Willow motioned for Isis. “I guess we may want to check that out too.” Normally she wouldn’t want to hang out in the capital too much, everything overwhelmed her much too easily, but with the announcement from earlier today, right now was probably a good moment to try and face that annoyance to see what was going on.
As she came closer to the city, she saw more and more people, all walking to the capital, just like her. She stopped, taking a deep breath, and then went into her settings. She’d been muting all the other players’ speech, but now that she was trying to actually find information, she probably had to turn it on again.
Around her, the other sounds int he game, like the wind and animals, game also got a little louder, but most of all, she could hear voices. Not real words and sentences yet, but she could hear the voices of people as she got closer to the city.
“Did you see it too?” A guy somewhere ahead of her said to someone. She couldn’t see if it was to one of the people around him or if it was through some other voice system, like a call or something, since she hadn’t actually looked into that much yet. Though, there didn’t seem to be a reply, before he spoke again. “I know. I was surprised too. Why would he go on stage and insist like that when there isn’t anything to the rumours? I don’t get it either.”
She kept following the now growing group of people. All around her, people seemed to be having the same conversations, wondering why Daryl had gone on stage like that, why he’d spoken out if the rumours were false, if there was maybe more behind it. But none of that explained why so many people were all going to the capital and she still didn’t know what was actually going on. It didn’t even seem like people were really wondering about it like she was either...
It was... curious at best, not a good sign at worst.
Everyone seemed to go to the big city square, and as she got closer to it, the voices around her grew louder, slowly starting to overwhelm her and she turned the volume down again, but not before something caught her attention.
“I heard that there is something special going on in the square. Did you see it yet?” The girl sounded surprised, this time there was a response from someone else.
“Yeah, there is someone saying that he’s Daryl, the creator, you know, and that if the game was really dangerous, that he wouldn’t go into the game himself. I think it’s a stupid idea.” Another girl sounded almost bored. “You know, if he’d just ignored it, people wouldn’t worry. But first the press conference and now this, if it’s even him, it just makes him seem guilty of something. None of the other games have responded like this.”
“Yeah,” the first girl spoke again. “But those games don’t have a lot of erased posts about missing people right on their forums... Did you see it? People are even sharing screenshots of the forums. They copied the posts about friends going missing, and suddenly the posts would be gone or changed and stuff like that. It’s really... It’s not good PR, he should realise that, right?”
“I know, right? If he really is the creator of this game, then why isn’t anyone stopping him from doing something like that? It’s silly.” The second girl didn’t sound convinced that this was all a good idea either. And Willow agreed with her, there was just so much going on, so many things that either didn’t fully add up or that were strange in other ways...
But if the girls were right, then Daryl could really be inside the game right now. She should probably go check it out.
Willow pushed through the masses, her size and strength now definitely an advantage.
Then a message popped up.
[Dawn has come online]
Dawn: Hey, where are you?
He was pretty fast.
Willow pushed herself to the side of the street and then replied to Dawn.
Meadow: I’m in the capital, something is going on here, I got curious.
Dawn: Cool. Want me to come your way?
She looked around. Did she want him to come here? She could potentially use his help, since he seemed to know a lot about the game, but then, she also knew that he could already be in trouble just being in this game in the first place.
This was doing her head in... Why were things so complicated?
She sent him a party invite, which he promptly accepted.
Meadow: Find me on the map.
Then she pushed through the crowd again, trying to get closer to the square so she could see things there. People around her were still talking about both the press conference and the player who could be Daryl, or not be Daryl, apparently either option was enough to get the gossip running.
When she finally got to the square, she looked around. It was so much more empty here than in the streets to it, which was definitely unexpected. Where the streets going here had been filled with people, packed, somehow the square almost looked normal, no people pushing at each other or anything. It was a little more busy than normal, but it wasn’t that much. Odd.
Then she spotted something.
Meadow: Didn’t you say that there was only one other known player who also had a dragon as a fylgja?
Dawn: Yeah. Only one player. Who is also almost max level. Why?
Willow looked at a guy who was surrounded by other players, waving his hands, talking to a group of people around him. At his side was a dragon, a red one and much bigger than Iris, but there was no doubt that both of them were based on the same model.
Meadow: I may have found him.
And he may be Daryl...
Daryl, the creator of HF, was the other player with a dragon for a fylgja. She wasn’t sure if that made her feel better or not, but she stepped back out of the view of the other player, waiting for Dawn.
He would know what to do now, he probably would. Right?
Dawn stepped in front of Willow, looking her over, frowning a little. He’d shown up pretty soon after she’d arrived at the square too, though he’d taken a couple of moments before he’d found her hiding behind a stall.
Dawn: What are you doing here?
Willow shrugged a little, now feeling silly for being stressed out about Daryl seeing her.
Dawn: That makes no sense.
He looked over to where Daryl was still talking to the people around him, and then to the streets that were full of people but very few people who actually dared to go into the square.
A lot of players were trying to spot Daryl for a moment, but barely any of them really seemed to want to talk to him, as they all kept their distance. Which seemed a little odd, the guy was basically a celebrity simply for creating this game, but at the same time, from the whispers she’d heard while walking through the crowd, people weren’t trusting him. Real Daryl or not, they didn’t trust the guy, and apart from some ‘celebrity spotting’ they didn’t really seem interested to talk to someone who they didn’t know if they could actually trust.
Willow motioned for Dawn to follow her and started walking down a street, navigating them to the frozen lake. As long as the ice ship wasn’t arriving any time soon, which would bring people and supplies from some other big cities in the game, it would be pretty calm there.
She jumped off the docks and walked along the edge of the lake for a while, finding a comfortable spot to sit down while she was going to try to figure out how much she could tell Dawn.
Dawn: What’s going on?
Dawn: You’ve been strange this whole time.
She wished she could trust the game, that she could tell Dawn things, explain everything, but like the forums, she expected that most of the conversations, verbal or in chat, were logged and checked on a regular basis. But she had to take this chance, Dawn seemed like a nice guy and he didn’t deserve to be kicked out of the game just for not being ‘normal’ the way some people defined ‘normal’.
Meadow: What do you know about the missing people rumours?
Dawn: I’ve seen some posts on the forums, but it always seems a little strange, that in this world, at this time, people would just stop existing.
Dawn: There is always a trail, there is always someone who can find you. We’re all more digital than not, there will be a trail, even if you’re kicked from a game.
Meadow: Not if they delete that data too.
Dawn: From every server, ever? That sounds unlikely.
Meadow: There are ways.
This stopped Dawn, who now looked more seriously at her.
Dawn: What do you mean?
His frown deepened and she could see the doubt in his eyes.
Meadow: It’s real. People, the flesh-and-bone people, aren’t going missing, but their digital data is all corrupted. The rumours about ‘missing people’ are real.
Dawn stared at her, his mouth opened, then he slowly shook his head.
Dawn: Why are you telling me this? Why me?
Meadow: Because I think you should know, at least, something about it.
Dawn: You’re not making much sense.
Meadow: I know, I’m sorry. I wish I could explain it better, but just know that it’s real. It’s really real and people in HF headquarters know.
He frowned, and nodded.
Dawn: But why me?
Meadow: Without trying to be alarming, it could happen to you too, when HF goes live for real.
Dawn: You’re talking about the press release?
Then an odd BASE notification got through her system.
*Soleil is at your door*
What? At her door?
Oh! In her apartment.
Meadow: I have to go. I wish I could tell you more right now. Just... I wish I knew how to keep you safe. I’m sorry.
She swiped up the menu and logged out of the game, not waiting for Dawn’s reply.
*You are now logged out of Helheim Fallen Online*
She sat up in bed, pulling her headset off and putting it aside. Now that she was back in the real world, she could hear the doorbell as it rang again.
She stood up, jolted by the sound, and as she walked over to her door, still frowning, she eyed the red blinking at the side of her view. She opened the message at the same time as she opened the door.
In front of her was Soleil, looking freaked out and stressed.
At the same time, Willow saw the messages in the chat.
Sage: Willow, message me when you see this. I’ve found something.
Sage: Willow? Please?
Opal: Sage? Sage, where did you go?
Opal: Willow! Come to DoE!
The last message from Opal was from just a few minutes ago.
Her heart started beating fast, what was going on now? What had Sage found? And where were they?
A bad feeling settled in her stomach and she swiped to the side, pulling up the participants of the chat. Sage was now listed under Violet, both with the same message next to their name, neither were connected to the BASE platform anymore.
This did not just happen!
But the way Soleil was looking at her, her even being here... It didn’t bode well...
Tears streaked down her cheeks as she stumbled back, grabbing her couch for support. This was not happening!