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They’d lost Dawn.

Dawn was gone.

He’d sacrificed himself so that they could keep going even though he barely knew them. He’d still sacrificed himself for them.

Slowly, the cave came back into view, the sounds around Willow slowly coming through.

She hadn’t been ready. She hadn’t been ready for his surprise attack. She’d known Dawn as someone who always thought before he did something, not as someone who was rash. But even he could surprise them.

Violet: Willow?

Meadow: here.

She carefully moved, looking to the other side and finding everyone staring at her, looking lost. Nobody had expected this.

Meadow: Is everyone okay?

Sage: HP is regenerating.

So, sort of a ‘yes’?

Violet was closest to her, as she tended to be. She reached out, taking Willow’s hand, holding it tightly.

It was down to the four of them. Just the four of them, and they all looked as lost as she felt.

[Time until midnight 02:04:24]

They were running out of time. They still had to get to the spire, and they still had a long way to go.

Meadow: We have to keep moving.

This wasn’t going to be the end, and they had no time to waste just sitting around. She pushed herself up, letting her eyes go over to where the guardian had just been and where Dawn had blown himself up with the bomb. The floor was still scorched, but even that was now slowly fading. The game updating the effects of the blast and slowly fading away the soot and other residue it had left behind. The results of what happened soon gone. Like it had never happened.

But inside her, it hurt. It hurt so much. Losing Opal, and then losing Dawn. They’d all known that it wouldn’t be safe, they’d known that when they said that they would help her out. But had they ever realised that they could lose their account and everything with it by helping her out? Did they ever consider that?

Someone wrapped their arm around her shoulders.

Violet: When we finish this, we’ll make sure that they’re okay.

Willow nodded, hoping that Soleil at least knew how to track Dawn down too. Willow hadn’t known him for very long, but she still hoped that Soleil could find him too… Hopefully.

Then Sage and Juniper wrapped their arms around Willow and Violet too, everyone pulling tightly. And for a few moments, Willow allowed herself to feel connected to them, to feel safe. Before they had to move again and hope that they could keep other people safe too.

Meadow: We need to fix this. We need to stop this blitzing from happening.

They’d lost two friends to it today. Nobody deserved that, especially if it wasn’t for anything more than having a record or a disability. Nobody deserved to have their life ruined over stuff like that.

Willow carefully climbed from under the others, looking down at the group.

Meadow: Let’s go.

They still had a while to go, and time was constantly ticking away, never stopping. They couldn’t rest now.

The others also stood up. And when Willow looked to the spire, it did seem a little closer than before, but that may have just been her imagination…

Willow started walking and the others followed her, all silent. There wasn’t much they could talk about now. There just wasn’t much they could do. And no matter how beautiful or interesting her surroundings were, it all felt like nothing when she couldn’t share it with the people she liked. When she couldn’t share the joy with anyone, when the only thing she could feel was frustration and anxiety.

She’d never been one of those ‘the world rests on your shoulders’ kind of people, but somehow she still got here, and got handed that role all the same…

Because she had realised the implications of one game blitzing people for stupid things and other games picking up on it. If one game could do this, other games would start doing it too, especially if nobody stopped them. And, sure, not everyone would be playing HF, but if enough other games started doing this, it could be a totally different issue.

In a sad way, if it came out how serious this blitzing and missing people really was, people would stop trusting BASE and the games and the people who worked on it, and that also wasn’t good. BASE didn’t deserve to be broken down just because some people abused a bug and were doing bad things to people.

She had to fix this, for everyone.

***

[Time to midnight 00:36:46]

They were finally getting close the spire, and the closer they got, the more Willow got an unsettling feeling in her body. Like shivers going through her, even though the air around her had been getting warmer. It was a strange experience, it was… She didn’t know how to explain it. There was something odd going on, definitely. And it wasn’t a good type of ‘odd’.

Sage: There are no guards.

Yeah, that was the other strange thing. They’d encountered the trolls, and then the guardian, but now they’d gotten so close to the spire, they hadn’t run into another guard or system to keep them from getting closer yet.

As it stood now, they could just walk up to the spire and do whatever they wanted, no questions asked. And no mater how simple that would be, Willow was sure that that wasn’t the purpose here. She was sure that it wouldn’t be that easy at all.

Somewhere, she wished that this place would have given them one of those ‘dungeon counters’ kind of things. One of those lists of how many bosses or monsters they had to kill before they got to the end of the dungeon. That would have been cool, and actually useful.

Juniper: What are we going to do?

Juniper: When we get there, I mean.

Meadow: I’m going to go into the code and together with Sage, I’m going to fix the part of the code that allows this program, or this company, whatever, to do the blitzing.

Sage: Sound simple enough.

Violet: Which means that it won’t be.

Yep, because that’s always how things went. They may seem simple but always turn out much more complicated.

At the end of the bridge-root-thing that they’d used to walk here from the door they’d used as an entrance, there was a platform around the spire.

Up close, the spire was definitely huge, even with ten people, hand in hand, they wouldn’t be able to span around it. It was impressive, that was for sure. And now they were so close to it, they could see that there was a constant data stream running through the lighter part of the spire. Constant data being collected and exchanged, though it could just be a visual overlay of what was going on behind it, but that still didn’t take away that this was the point which they needed.

Willow walked closer to it, stepping onto the platform, her eyes going over the screens lined up on most of this side of the spire, over the random bits of data being shown on it, over what was basically the brain of HF, right in front of them. It was impressive, and in a geeky way, it was beautiful how form and function were combined into this, how the idea of the tree of Norse mythology was used as the data centre of HF. Pretty cool.

“Over here!” Sage called out and Willow turned to them, surprised to hear their voice. Sage was pointing at a specific screen, a few over from where Willow was standing.

Willow went over to them, looking at the code that Sage had pulled up on the screen. In some ways, this looked similar to some of the code that Soleil had showed her before, it was trying to collect data that they weren’t allowed to be able to get to…

“You’re not supposed to be here,” someone said behind them and Willow immediately twisted around. Daryl, Helheim Fallen Online’s creator, was standing not too far behind them.

“Well, you’re not supposed to hurt people.” Sage stepped partially in front of Willow, crossing their arms in front of them. “Why are you blitzing accounts? These people have done nothing wrong.”

Daryl shrugged, like Sage was asking him a boring question. “They also haven’t been doing anything good. Just because you breathe doesn’t mean that you should be welcome everywhere. Existing does not give you the right to just demand to go wherever you want.”

“You’re hurting people. People are dying because your program locked them out of their BASE account.” Violet stepped next to Willow, her eyes on Daryl.

“That hasn’t been proven, or I wouldn’t be standing here. If they could prove that my game did this to someone, the police would have done something about it.” Daryl took a step towards them. “Now, get away from my program. This isn’t yours. This isn’t for some kids to just do what they like with just because they’re some special snowflakes.”

“I don’t think so.” Willow stepped closer to Daryl, looking at him head on. “You’re going to take the code which checks BASE accounts against government records out.”

“Or else?” Daryl looked at her with the glint of a boy who’d never heard the word no in his life, at least not a no that he couldn’t turn into a yes by bullying or bribing people.

“Or else we’ll take it out ourselves.” What did she have to lose now? If the code was in place at midnight, her account would be blitzed, if Daryl did something to them, he’d probably blitz them too, this way they at least still had a chance.

Daryl waved his hand and in the middle of the air, above them, a time started counting down. Bright red letters and numbers, floating in the air, covering everything in a creepy red glow.

[Time until Helheim Fallen Online goes live 00:30:26]

Willow quickly checked her own timer, just to make sure that he wasn’t messing with them, but it showed the same thing.

[Time until midnight 00:30:13]

They had half an hour to fix this.

Ten days of trying to figure out what was going on now came down to thirty minutes.

“What are you going to do? What do you think you can do?” Daryl dared them. He looked at them like they wouldn’t be able to do this. But if there was one thing that Willow had learned, it was that nothing was certain until after the moment that it happened, or it failed, either way. They still had a chance.

“We’re going to fix this. We are.” Willow pulled up her %Elementalbolt, hovering it in her hand. She’d gotten quite good control over her attacks by now, which was cool, because she felt badass like this. Like some mage from a cool anime or something, although, she did still look like an ugly undead, but that didn’t stop her from imagining how awesome she must look now, in her head anyway.

Daryl’s eyes flashed with surprise as he pulled a similar type of bolt up. “You’re not supposed to be able to do that. You’re not supposed to be able to get that attack.”

“Because it’s yours? This bolt which has no official name?” A special attack, just for him? Was he that childish?

“Yes.” He sounded so sure.

“And I’m not supposed to be able to have a dragon fylgja either?” Which would explain why Dawn had been so surprised by her dragon. This was starting to sound a little silly.

“You’re not. It should be hard coded that your account can’t get them. They’re not for regular players.”

Oh, well, that made a lot more sense. Thanks, person who was helping them at HF headquarters, apparently she hadn’t just gotten some mod tools, her account had some perks that she wasn’t supposed to be able to get to normally at all. Curious…

“Get away from the spine.” Daryl reached out next to him and a dragon spawned right there, his hand now on the shoulder of the creature, above it showed the name Topaz. And although Willow still couldn’t summon Iris, it was pretty cool to see what Iris would one day grow into, if they were going to survive this.

“Or what?” Violet stood next to her, an arrow on her bow, pointing straight at Daryl.

“Or I’ll make sure that you do. By any means.” He pulled up not one bolt, but four at the same time in his hand, and Willow wondered for a moment if she’d be able to do that one day…

Then he threw the bolts at them, being able to control each one separately, and they all jumped to the side, not wanting to get hit. At the last moment, Willow put up a shield, just to be extra sure that it wouldn’t hit her, but the shield only seemed to absorb the bolt and the next moment the button for her shield attack had also greyed out on her bar.

Oh, no. No good. Definitely not good.

Daryl could make attacks, and probably people, disappear like what had happened before with their fylgjur when the trolls killed them.

“Don’t let his attacks hit you. You will be blitzed.” Willow got back on her feet, looking at the spire behind her.

Daryl had blown up some of the screens around it, making them useless, disabling them.

The timer above them kept counting down, a steady counting down of the seconds.

[Time until Helheim Fallen Online goes live 00:28:02]

They had to get rid of Daryl before he destroyed the whole setup around the spire and before he got rid of them…

They would have no chance to save this game otherwise…

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