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Willow stood in the middle of the capital in HF, waiting for Dawn to join her. She was nervous, her stomach all in knots, because she had no idea how Dawn would react when she told him her plan. But she had to try. He'd been helping her out a lot and she wanted him to know what was going on in HF because if things went wrong, he’d be affected too. So she had to try and ask him.

She could really use a second player to help the others when they'd get their beta keys in a couple of hours. Sage and Violet didn't have their new accounts yet, but they should be getting them in the next few hours or days, hopefully. Which was sort of the downside of their plan… a lot depended on 'hopefully'. Hopefully everyone could get the beta keys. Hopefully Sage and Violet could get their new accounts on time. Hopefully they wouldn’t get blitzed again when they logged in. Lots of hopefully.

For the last few days, Willow had been selling off everything she owned in DoE, just hoping that she could scrape together enough money for Violet and Sage. And last night, finally, they got the news about the amount of money they'd need to get them the new accounts. They had enough, everything added together after they’d sold the house and the boat, but just barely. Luckily, there was still money coming in from auctions that hadn’t run out yet, so they'd have a little bit of a buffer. But Willow’s bank account looked frighteningly empty, which was why she really hoped that this was all going to work out. She didn't want to imagine things going wrong anymore, not now.

[Dawn has come online]

Meadow: Hey!

She wrote the message as fast as she could, trying to push away her anxiety.

Dawn: Hey. Missed you online, what happened? Work got you all wrapped up in it?

Even now he seemed to sort of think that she had a job or something… Yeah, she was going to have to explain that to him at some point.

Meadow: Helped a couple of friends who are in trouble.

This time the message back took a while longer.

Dawn: The same trouble we talked about last time?

She’d sort of told him about the blitzed accounts, but she wasn’t sure how much he really believed her.

Meadow: Yes.

Dawn: Oh.

Meadow: I need your help…

Meadow: My friends and I need your help.

Dawn: In what way?

Dawn: I don't know how much I can help without…

Meadow: I just need someone to help train my friends when they get their beta keys later today.

Dawn: How?

Dawn: No. I'm not going to ask. Helping training them sounds like it should be fine. But I can't get involved in anything illegal.

Meadow: No worries. I'm not asking that. Just that I need someone who has a little bit more knowledge about the game to help power level them. I can't do that on my own.

Dawn: I can do that. Sure.

Meadow: Thanks!

Dawn: We should probably go to the starter zone then, wait there for them?

Meadow: Yeah, I was thinking that.

Because on foot… it could take them a while before they’d arrive there.

Meadow: I don't suppose there is a faster way than walking?

Dawn: No. You're not actually supposed to go back… just forward.

Yeah, she suspected as much. She hadn't seen any easy travel around here yet, apart from the boat, which she wasn't able to get on yet because she was too low level.

Meadow: Let's go then.

They started making their way to the gate of the capital, ready to get back to where it all started.

She really wanted to keep checking in with her friends, making sure everything was going according to plan. They guessed that if they got the beta keys from someone within the company, that they would probably be safer than getting a real one. Hopefully.

Dawn: I was wondering… You got here late, not with the rest of the batch of beta players. Did you get 'help' coming in here too?

Could she really trust him? She kept wanting to trust him, but she just didn't know if she could. They'd been having fun together, sure, but there wasn't anything that said that she could trust him with information like that without him going to the mods or devs with what he knew and ruin everything.

Meadow: Maybe? Would it matter?

Dawn kept walking, but she could see him think, the way he frowned.

Dawn: Maybe. Would my opinion matter?

Meadow: Only if you report me to the game creators.

That made Dawn smile a little.

Dawn: No. It doesn't matter to me. It just means that a couple of things are making more sense…

Dawn: So, your friends, what are they like?

Willow grinned, totally ready for a change in topic.

Meadow: They're a lively bunch. They can be a handful, but we've known each other for a long time.

Dawn: That's nice. Friends like that aren't easy to find.

Meadow: You can borrow mine sometimes.

She meant it too. Dawn had been great while they'd been playing together, so if everyone got along well, he was welcome to join them whenever.

Dawn: Thanks.

Then they fell into silence, just walking down the road. There weren't a lot of people here, they were mostly on their own. Willow watched her surroundings change, forests appearing at her sides, the trees covered in ice and snow.

This was really getting back to where it all began.

***

Now that she was more familiar with the game, she saw the world in the starter zone a little differently, less overwhelming. The first thing that she noticed was that the encampment wasn't its own instance, which she had considered as a possibility before, but that it had simply been empty because everybody had already left. Then she noticed that the captains who had given her the first quests now had levels above their heads, something she hadn't seen before.

Meadow: We can attack the NPCs here?

Dawn: Apparently?

He saw him look around too, his eyes going over to the captains and then to some of the other NPCs they could see from here.

Meadow: Is that new or does it not show up when you're too low level?

Dawn: I've not heard about this before, but the game doesn't really think about players going back to the lower zones, so either is possible.

Willow shrugged. Yeah, but it did give her some interesting ideas.

Meadow: It means we could potentially kill them. Just hunt and main them.

Although, the NPCs were still more than ten levels above even Dawn. And that ignored the fact that there were a lot more NPCs than just the two of them as players… So, for now, this was purely theoretical.

Dawn: Don't even try… Not looking forward to getting killed off.

Meadow: Me neither, don't worry.

She pulled up her timer, checking how much longer it would take for the people with beta keys to show up.

[Global time: ‘42 - 05 - 30 09:39

Local time: ‘42 - 03 - 30 10:39

System: Good morning]

About twenty more minutes… She sighed, then looked around and leaned back against the fence a little while off. Twenty minutes until the beta keys were handed out, but they'd still have to wait on players actually getting through the character creation and then show up here.

Meadow: BRB.

She swiped the menu up and then logged out.

*You are now logged out of Helheim Fallen Online*

She checked in on the chat with her friends.

Opal: How long before the new accounts come in?

Sage: No idea. Sorry.

Juniper: And what if it's not on time?

Willow: Then we're going to have to do this on our own until they can get in.

Violet: Willow! Aren't you supposed to wait for us in the game?

Willow: Just wanted to mention that Dawn is willing to help out, please be nice to him.

Sage: Aren't we always?

Willow narrowed her eyes, even though of course nobody could see it.

Willow: Just be good.

Willow: I hate waiting.

Opal: Tell me about it.

Then she checked in with Soleil, but Soleil hadn't responded yet to the message from this morning asking if everything was in place. She either was still asleep, or didn't have any updates. Either of which Willow couldn't do anything about. Then she went back to her friends.

Willow: I'm going back in the game. Just find me there. Don't scare when you see me. I'm Meadow there.

Willow: Good luck everyone.

She went back into the game, still as nervous as before, not having calmed down at all.

She really did hate waiting.

*You're now logged into Helheim Fallen Online*

She appeared back in the spot she'd been waiting before, Dawn at her side.

Dawn: Anything?

She shook her head. It would have been nice if there had been something new she could share with him, but there wasn't anything new. It was just waiting, a waiting game. Nothing more right now.

***

The first new players started to appear a little while off. First, just two or three at a time, but then the influx went faster. Each of the players had their own newbie pet, the ugly little creature that was so annoying and boring. But it was kind of fun to see all the new players show up, there was something interesting about all the different choices people made about what they were going to play. And since there was so little actual known about the classes out there, it was mostly going to depend on their favourite styles.

There were a lot of elves and humans walking around, as she expected, since it was the same when she was in the city. Then there were the handful of jötunn and draugr.

She noticed that there were very few dwarves walking around in HF though, which she hadn't expected and hadn’t noticed before. she thought that those would be more popular than the undead, with their bright red-orange beards and their bulky build. Although, as she looked at a few of them, without fail, all of them were wearing loincloths and little else… Hmm, that may be one of the reasons so few people played them… She'd seen some dwarves before in the capital, but every piece of gear after the starter gear at least covered the private bits of dwarves better.

She tried looking for her friends, sort of knowing what to expect from them, but they could aways surprise her. They'd done that before.

Then, a decently tall dwarf with a huge hammer slung over his shoulder came walking up to her. The name above him said 'Opal'. Of course, well, that wasn't unexpected at all. Opal, the berserker dwarf. Pretty typical. She invited him into their party and Opal immediately accepted it.

Opal: Hi!

Meadow: Hi.

Dawn: Hi. You must be one of her friends?

Opal: You could say that.

He grinned, the beard moving, and it looked kind of funny. She'd mostly seen Opal as a human warrior before, but a dwarf, especially a half-naked one, would be right what he liked.

Then an elven lady with a bow came over, waving. Juniper. She also invited Juniper into their party.

Meadow: Any news?

She saw Juniper shake her head, frowning a little.

Juniper: Nothing. They hadn't gotten anything before we came in.

Willow nodded, her heart heavy. Would they be able to pull it off with just the four of them, or did they really need Violet and Sage too? It would be good to have Sage at her side, especially since they knew so much about coding, so it would be a real help for whatever they were going to have to do.

Dawn: You should probably go do the starter quests, and then we can all go out together for the other quests.

Opal: Can't we just go and kill stuff?

Meadow: Do you have attacks on your bar?

She watched as Opal checked his game, his face falling.

Opal: Oh.

Meadow: Yes.

Opal: Fine.

He took Juniper's arm and then they went off to the captains together, getting the quests they would need.

Dawn looked at her, smiling.

Dawn: Yeah, the game has a pretty strict linear start, I forgot about that for a while.

Willow hadn't forgotten about it, because it had annoyed her so much when she first started playing. It was just so annoying and there was no need for it. Like everything else in this game, there were just decisions that made no sense, but still somehow ended up in the game. She wondered if some people who made this game even knew what people liked best about playing MMORPGs, but probably not. Such a strict linear progression at the start of the game was definitely not in line with the things that people tended to appreciate most.

As she watched the new players, some of them looking more and more frustrated at the UI and other things, before resignation set in and they would follow exactly what the game wanted them to do, grumbling along the way.

Then a new message showed up in her chat, this one not in the party chat, but a private message.

Sage: We're in.

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