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*Only 8 hours until Helheim Fallen Online goes live.

Do you have your copy yet?*

The message hovered in front of her as Willow woke up, before it faded away. She’d been having a strange sleeping pattern for the last couple of days when it came to the time of day that she woke up, although it was all still guided by the BASE platform, so no issues there. But somewhere in the back of her mind was the sneaking suspicion that Soleil had something to do with the relaxation of her system rules as of late…

She sat up, stretching as she took calming breaths. Eight hours until HF went live, that meant it was already late in the afternoon of the previous day right now. A little late for breakfast or whatever, but she had to eat something before she dove back into HF.

She’d only slept for six hours, but they didn’t have more time to waste. They were all at level 20 at least. They’d all spent as much time as they could levelling up their characters, trying to get their hands on the best gear that they could and then they were going to have to trust that things would go well.

They had eight hours. In those eight hours, they had to get back to the trolls’ cave, get the trolls out of the way and then make their way through whatever was on the other side of the hidden door.

Willow pulled up her timer, the same one that worked inside HF. She opened the code for it, and then added a few new lines of coding.

[TimeLeft = Countdown(2042-04-02 00:00:00)

cout << “Time to midnight” << TimeLeft;]

As she compiled the code, the clock refreshed and at the bottom of the list was now the time until the release of HF visible. The time until midnight tonight, the time until everything would go wrong unless they did something about it.

[Time to midnight 07:23:23]

There was no way to get around it anymore, and she knew that everything, a lot of players’ gaming and accounts, would depend on what they were able to pull off today.

As she took her box with breakfast/lunch/early dinner, she eyed the chat with her guild. There would probably be more people awake by now.

As she sat down with the box, opening it to find a variation on the standard ‘sandwich with cheese, ham or sweet fillings’ in the form of bagels instead of regular bread, she wasn’t so sure about it all. Like she needed to think about things that were different than normal today. She eyed the box, not entirely sure what to do.

Then she got a notification for a call, only, instead of a single person, it said ‘guild’. Uh, oh.

She accepted the call and immediately heard Violet. “I’m not saying that, I’m just thinking that this is a bad plan.”

“No, it’s not.” That was Opal. “It really isn’t.”

“Morning, or afternoon, people.” Willow plucked at the bagel, and then opened a small cup of jam, dipping the piece of bagel in it, before popping it into her mouth. Bagels made pretty good dipping objects, better than trying to cut them open and get stuff on them because that always made a mess.

“Willow, tell Opal that he can’t go and distract the trolls while we slip past them.” Violet was way too active for Willow’s mind, having just woken up.

“He can’t.” Willow sighed, dipping another piece.

“See?!” Violet sounded triumphant.

“Because I’m going to do that.” Hey, it had been her plan, she just hadn’t wanted to reveal it just quite yet.

“What?!” That was all four of them, she could hear Sage and Juniper too.

“I’ve got a plan. And we’re going to make it work. Now, I’m eating breakfast. I’ll see you all in HF soon.” She disconnected the call, then quickly put all communications on silent so they couldn’t disturb her while she prepared herself before diving into the game.

She had a plan. Before bed last night, she’d looked online, and she’d found one weakness of trolls, a weakness that she could remember was also in the coding for HF. For all the things that they’d changed in how Helheim worked in comparison to old Norse Mythology, this was one thing that they’d apparently kept in place.

And the guild was going to use it to their advantage.

***

Willow shook her head as Violet and Opal kept glaring at her. They were standing right outside the first encampment in HF, waiting on the others.

When she’d logged on earlier, she’d still been on the outskirts of the capital, but they’d agreed to find each other here, instead of waiting around there since they had to be near here anyway. Dawn, Sage and Juniper were still on their way and she wasn’t going to spill the beans before them. Mostly because she was pretty sure that they’d all disagree with her plan.

Meadow: I’m not telling until everyone is here.

She puled up her timer.

[Time to midnight 04:49:25]

Just under five hours. It had taken them more than an hour to even get here, the walk here really was quite long. But she was going to wait on the others before revealing her plan, no matter what.

Opal: Why can’t you say just something?

Violet: You’re not going in on your own. You’re not a lone wolf.

At Willow’s smile, Violet narrowed her eyes at her.

Violet: You saw something. Sage showed you something when we were at the trolls, and you know something that we don’t about them.

Meadow: Maybe.

Opal: Arg!

Just then, they saw Juniper come down the road, sprinting, closely followed by Dawn, and not too long after also Sage. The whole group was here. Now everyone was here, she could tell them the plan.

And, no matter how much they would object to it, they had no other way to pull this off. They had one chance, and this was it.

They didn’t have enough time to come up with a new plan.

This was their one shot.

***

[Time to midnight 04:03:56]

They stood in front of the cave, Opal and Sage both glaring at Willow. The others just looked confused at them.

Opal: No.

Sage: No way.

Meadow: Yes.

The one weakness of trolls was that they couldn’t deal with sunlight well, so, the most sensible plan was to try to get the trolls out of the cave, pull them into the sunlight and hope that they would either get severely weakened, or, closer to tradition, they may even turn into stone. Either way, they would be out of the cave and it wouldn’t be a problem for them to get rid of them anymore.

Only, Willow’s plan included something like her being the one to aggro the trolls to get them out. And while the others agreed on the general plan, that part they didn’t agree with.

Dawn: You’re too squishy to be tanking them.

Meadow: We don’t have a tank.

Sage: We have pets. We can use our pets.

Meadow: And then what? What if they kill them?

Dawn: Then we summon them again.

Dawn: We’re not giving up a player just to get past the trolls.

It made sense, but it still didn’t feel right to do this. It felt wrong to sacrifice the pets just to get past some trolls. It didn’t feel right to do this…

Violet stepped next to her, her hand strong on Willow’s arm.

Violet: Opal, Juniper and I wait here. We’ll be safer here outside. You three go inside.

Meadow: Are you sure?

She looked at Violet, who had a fighting spirit in her gaze that Willow could appreciate, even though she hated the feeling of putting anyone in danger.

Juniper: Go. Get those trolls.

Willow nodded, making Iris follow her and she stepped into the cave. Moments later, Sage and Dawn were there too, their pets at their sides. They could make this work, right? They should be able to.

Dawn: I’ll get Aya to attack them first. She’s got a range attack, so we can hopefully kite them for a while before they take her down.

Sage: Then Arthur next, he’s the tankiest pet we’ve got.

Dawn: Iris can finish it off, hopefully she can get to the end of the cave, she’d got a good ranged attack with her fire too, so she doesn’t have to get too close.

Willow nodded. It made sense, and the basic plan had still been hers, but this was a lot more scary because it put a lot more people in danger.

Meadow: Yeah. Yeah.

They all stayed quiet until they reached the end of the cave, standing in front of the huge door. Now they had to get the trolls out of there…

Dawn climbed up to the window and at first Aya followed him, but then she flew back to the door, slipping through a crack at the side, small enough for a tiny bird like her.

Dawn: Ready?

Willow and Sage started walking back, Arthur and Iris close at their sides.

Meadow: Ready.

Sage: Ready.

Dawn jumped down, reaching them before he made a movement with his hand.

Dawn: Go!

He started running and they quickly followed him. There were loud noises behind them, the trolls screaming as they were attacked by the tiny bird, then the door opened with a bang and the trolls came storming out, yelling.

Then the loud footsteps kept following them, sometimes pausing for a moment as the trolls would let out sounds of frustration. Probably as they attacked Aya, or were slowed down by her attacks.

Dawn: Sage!

Sage’s bear stopped running at their side, falling back, and now the target of the trolls.

Aya was down. They hadn’t even gotten that far yet. They’d made it maybe 1/4 through the cave.

They were now in the total darkness area. The only thing around them were darkness and the sounds of the trolls following them closely.

Sage stumbled for a moment, a light flash shooting from their hands, probably a quick heal onto their bear.

Sage: 50%

They were getting close to the lighter part of the cave again, they were over halfway now.

Willow looked behind her, the trolls even more creepy and ugly in the low lighting, accentuating their strange facial features, making them even more scary than they seemed in the cave.

Sage’s bear ran closely in front of it, clawing at their legs if they lost too much attention on it.

She watched as Arthur’s health bar slowly went down. Sage healing it but then the trolls would attack it again, the HP dropping faster as Sage was running out of mana.

And then… Arthur was gone.

Sage: Meadow!

Willow made Iris attack the trolls, hoping that they would make it to the end now. She put Iris back on follow for a couple of seconds, before putting her back on aggressive, switching between the two so that Iris would kite the trolls.

She could see the aggro that the trolls had on Iris, it was scary to watch. They were following her, just as they’d planned.

But Willow had to constantly cast healing spells at Iris, trying to keep her health up high enough. While Iris was mostly out of range because she didn’t need to be within melee range to do damage, some of the hits would still reach her. They just had to keep her topped up well enough.

They could see the end of the cave. They were getting so close now!

Next to her, she saw Sage and Dawn also throw healing spells at Iris.

They were getting really really close now, Willow could hear some of the sounds from the birds and other creatures outside of the cave. Not much further.

She looked ahead and stumbled over something on the floor, which made her fall to the floor. It tripped up her healing cycle and Iris’ health dropped dangerously low.

No! No, no!

That was not happening.

She shot out her hand, healing Iris again.

But it was too late.

She couldn’t do anything else anymore, her mana depleted, her healing spell still recharging, she was defenceless now.

The trolls caught up to Iris, their giant fists connecting with the small dragon, her health dropping to zero and Iris fell to the ground. Dead.

Then the trolls’ aggro was on Willow. She was Iris’ master, Iris belonged to her, so now Willow had the most aggro of the group.

Willow scrambled up, running to the end of the cave. She had to get the trolls to the end of the cave before they could hit her.

She had to get the trolls into the sunlight before they could hurt her, or kill her, which was more likely.

Willow felt the tension in her body, she could feel how she was pushing her own body to the limit just to get to the end.

She’d never run like this before, she never had to. But there was always a first.

Then, someone pushed her aside, making her fall over again, sliding away. And as she rolled away, she saw how the trolls hit Opal, just as they stepped into the sunlight and turned to stone.

But as the trolls turned to stone, something even worse happened to Opal.

He blinked, looking at her, his eyes going wide, and then slowly, his form began to lose shape, turning into a puddle. His code disintegrating and turning into a black blob on the floor.

No!

Willow opened her mouth, a low keening escaping her.

No way!

Opal was gone. The trolls had just broken his code. Somehow blitzed his account and they couldn’t do anything about it. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d saved her.

But he still paid the price.

Opal still paid the price.

They’d lost one of their team. They’d already lost their strongest melee fighter, and they hadn’t even gotten into the next stage of the plan yet…

No way!

Willow felt tears on her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around herself.

How many more people were they going to lose before they made it to the end?

And apart from their characters in this game, how much else were they going to lose if they failed?

How much?

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