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Willow’s life hasn’t been easy. She’s autistic, living in a community closed off from the rest of the world ‘for her own safety’, and the only way she gets to interact with anyone is by logging in to the BASE (Bioelectrical Augmented Synapse Enhancement) platform and play videogames.
Her life revolves around playing VRMMORPGs with her close friends and making a little extra money on the side by trading items in the games so that she can buy pizza or new games when they come out.
The game she’s saving up for right now? Helheim Fallen Online, a Norse mythology inspired game, said to be changing the landscape of gaming forever.
Only, there are rumours going around that some people who get the beta invite for the game are going missing. It’s just a rumour, until her best friend Violet wins one of the beta keys and disappears, all traces of her gone, like she was never even there.
Now Willow is fighting against the clock to not only find out where Violet went, but why more people are going missing every day, and the only way to do that is by illegally getting into Helheim Fallen Online, play the game, and expose whoever is making people disappear.
And, above all, make sure she doesn’t get caught in the meantime and disappears herself.
She has ten days to pull it off.
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*You are now logged into Destruction of Elysium*
The message appeared in the middle of Willow’s line of sight as the world around her started to materialise. The low houses gave the feeling that they were about to burst out a whole family of ghosts and a dense fog fuzzied the edges of her surroundings, making the lights at the end of the street look creepy and haunted.
Willow’s ‘low sensory’ settings muted all of the voice announcements in the game, instead showing them as notifications in the middle of her view. It also influenced the background music, keeping it fairly quiet, the light effects, dampening their brightness a tad, and even her experiences of scent and taste in the virtual world. She always thought it was one of the best inventions ever, being able to decide on your own world settings and not having to deal with the harshness of sensory experiences that others seemed to have no problems with.
As she walked down the street, it occurred to her, not for the first time, that the real world would be a much better place for her to live in if they could get the sensory settings in augmented reality as advanced as they were in virtual reality.
The thing was, the muting option in AR was just an imperfect rendering of what they already had running in VR. Since it was just not as easy to mute impulses inside a brain as it was when they could just send her brain a lower setting in the first place. Though, she hoped that the AR settings would get more advanced soon. There were places outside of the building she lived in that she’d love to visit for real, like the beach or going skiing in the mountains, but for now, she just couldn’t. It would send her into sensory overload and probably trigger a panic attack. Bummer.
Willow looked around, quickly locating where she was as she saw the name of the city listed over the almost translucent map in the top right side of her vision. Araepolis, city of the cursed spirits, and she was in the residential district.
Okay, good. She quickly tried to recall what she had been up to before she’d logged off yesterday.
A red exclamation mark slowly pulsed in the lower right edge of her view. She moved her eyes in that direction and a screen popped up in front of her.
√ 300 XP for daily logging in
√ New message from Violet
√ Update on Guild Ship Items List
√ Quest update for 1 quest
√ 150 items have been sold in the marketplace
As she read the list, the top message’s faint glow disappeared, and the XP message slowly faded away, the others moving up a row.
She focused on the update of her items list, and a new list appeared.
Guild Ship Item List
□ Cedar Wood: 490/500
√ Linseeds: 250/250
□ Ghost Leaves: 189/200
□ Juicy Olives: 276/300
√ Titanic Cassava: 100/100
□ Cedar Lumber: 75/100
□ Titanic Varnish: 37/50
The numbers for cedar lumber and titanic varnish glowed as the game registered her most recent crafting attempts as successful, even though she hadn’t actually collected them yet.
Her guild was building a guild trading ship so that they could directly trade with other guilds, cutting out the fees of the marketplace, but it also allowed trade of rarer items that couldn’t be sold through the regular market. If they completed it before Helheim Fallen Online came out, and used it to run a couple of trading missions, it could give them a significant boost in in-game income which meant that buying the new game would be a lot easier.
Willow switched back to the notifications list, the items list update row now also gone. She ignored the message from the marketplace. There was no use checking that until she was actually going to invest time in it and could set up new items to sell, which probably wouldn’t be until later.
She took a quick peek at the updated quest log, but it was only for the quest to open a new raid. The dungeon she’d finished last night had finally registered at the main quest registry, and now she just had to do three more dungeons until she could enter the new raid. She didn’t know why the updates on dungeons had to be so slow to register, though it probably had something to do with giving people enough time to recover from doing a dungeon or event before going onto the new one. Dungeons and raids were pretty exhausting, mostly mentally, so there were certain barriers in place to make sure people didn’t overdo it.
Then she focused on the notification of a message from Violet, and a new screen showed up.
Did you hear it yet? They’re sending out the new batch of beta keys for Helheim Fallen today.
I’m so excited.
I sooo hope we both get one, but if only one of us gets it, we have to tell the other what it’s like.
Okay. Off to bed.
Most people these days would send voice or video messages, but Willow preferred to do things old school, just typed notes. She liked it better because it was calmer and quieter, voice or video messages just tended to be loud and obnoxious.
A keyboard appeared in the air in front of her, and she quickly typed a message back to Violet. They sometimes missed each other when they were both on different sleep schedules, though it didn’t matter much. Time had become almost meaningless these days.
The economy, the games, it all ran 24/7. Day and night had become merely words referencing to it being light or dark outside, nothing more.
About twenty years ago, before Willow had even been born, a device called a BASE unit, Bioelectrical Augmented Synapse Enhancement unit, had been invented. This small device was implanted at the base of the skull and could read but also create and send neuro-electrical pulses to the brain. The BASE unit was able to adjust pulses from different parts of the body and this way it could create a very realistic augmented reality experience. The BASE unit also came with its own software platform called the BASE platform, which did away with most people’s needs for old school computers as it could directly interface the internet with their brain. The most popular use of the BASE platform was the virtual reality option where people could walk around a game, or any virtual world, like they were really there.
When almost everyone in the world switched to the BASE implant and lived their lives either in AR or VR, it opened up a world of possibilities. For example, it allowed Willow to set her own sensory setting for things like volume or light, which was such a blessing to her because those were the main areas she had problems with because of her autism. But it also allowed the world to run 24/7. The BASE platform would read people’s ‘biological clock’ and then notify them when they should go to sleep, or get something to eat and things like that. Because no matter how realistic BASE was, those bodily functions still needed to happen in the real world.
There had even been reports of people getting suspended from the BASE platform for hours or days at a time when they ignored the BASE messages for too long. And if that kept going on, they could even get visits from a doctor and be sent to a specialised hospital unit that would teach them to take better care of their bodily needs. Scary.
The BASE unit used to be this big dangerous thing and people would warn against, giving companies such easy access to their brains. But these days, most kids had it implanted within a couple of months of being born. It was a normal procedure. That, and the battery of tests that would determine so much of a kid’s future.
When kids got their implant, doctors would also use that time to test how they responded to sensory stimulation, how well they reacted to social interactions, if their body had any physical deformities or if their build could potentially make them athletic stars. There was a whole list of tests. And in the end, all the results were ranked almost like they were ‘stats’ about a human being.
Or, that’s how Willow imagined it anyway, that there was a stats sheet on her on some system or in some drawer like she had for her character in DoE.
Social Skills: Very low
Physical Skills: Average
Sensory Processing: Problematic
The tests were what got her an autism diagnosis, and that had influenced the rest of her life since. From going to a tiny preschool class, to private lessons at primary and secondary school, to the ‘low sensory housing’ she lived in right now.
Or, as she liked to call it, ‘the rollercoaster of going absolutely nowhere in life’. She was autistic, so she’d been put into a system that was basically designed to keep her busy and somewhat healthy until the day she died. Because she was never expected to amount to anything anyway, so why bother?
Through the BASE implant, the AR side enhanced daily life around the house. From things like ordering groceries or anything else a person needed right from where they were standing, to being read a story, or even calling friends. It was all done in the BASE’s AR system, right there through the BASE unit in their brain.
And when someone wanted to go to the virtual world, they’d put on a VR headset and be transported to the BASE platform, from where they could choose from any game or program they owned or browse new games and programs. The BASE platform worked all around the world, so no matter where someone logged on they would always be connected to the same system. When playing multiplayer games, they could be playing with someone from the other side of the world and not even know.
Willow moved her head slowly side to side, letting her eyes go over the empty windows of the houses around her, trying to decide if she wanted to dive into a dungeon or if it would be better to get to crafting the items for the guild boat first. Crafting, probably, especially if they were going to get the guild boat done before Helheim Fallen Online, the new VRMMORPG, came out.
A message popped up in the chat box on the lower left side of her vision.
Sage: Where are you at?
Willow smiled. Sage was another one of her friends from the guild. It wasn’t a big guild, but they’d all been friends for years and had gotten to know each other pretty well.
Willow: Just logged on, going to set up the next round of items for the boat, and then going to queue for a dungeon. I’d like to open the next raid before the weekend. Get it out of the way and stuff.
Her fingers flew over the projected keyboard. She’d seen real keyboards when she was little, and since she preferred to play in mostly quiet or silence, this was actually a great way to communicate with others.
Sage: Cool. I’m about 80% done with my part. Do you have some flax in your inventory?
Willow: Sold it last night. Sorry!
Sage: No problem, can go grab it myself. You need the money more than me anyway.
That was true. Willow lived on benefits because she was deemed ‘unemployable’ because of her ‘autism issue’ and the money she got each month was… well… not that much. ‘Experts’ said it was enough to live on, but that was only if you never bought any new games or wanted to drink more than water all day. It totally depended on your definition of ‘living’.
Luckily, she could make some extra money by selling items in the marketplace in games. The exchange rate from game-currency to real world-credits in DoE was crap, but that didn’t really matter. Some games, like most RTS games or hardcore puzzle games, had a better exchange rate, but she didn’t enjoy those as much, and there was little use playing them against her own preference when she would enjoy DoE much more. Right now, she was saving up for buy Helheim Fallen Online, which would set her savings back quite a bit.
She opened the game menu with a swipe of her hand and scrolled through the locations she could transport to until she hit ‘Guild House’. She clicked on the button and a new screen popped up.
Are you sure you want to teleport to Guild House?
‘Yeah, yeah,’ she thought, and the system interpreted it.
The next moment she felt the insistent pull on her whole body as she was transported to the housing area, spawning in the middle of her own room in the guild house. The room was filled with plush toys, cute trinkets she’d collected and everything that made her happy. Plus, of course, two crafting benches, one for alchemy and one for carpentering.
Willow opened a chest near the crafting tables and grabbed the supplies she needed. Then she went over to the alchemy table and collected the bottle of titanic varnish from it.
You have collected Titanic Varnish.
Alchemy +250 XP
Then she put an empty bottle at the end of the distiller and grabbed the three other ingredients she needed from her inventory, juicy olives, ghost leaves and titanic cassava. She first carefully peeled the cassava root, making sure to take all the skin off, as this was the base of the varnish and leaving any of the skin on would mean certain failure of the recipe. Then she cut up the cassava root into small pieces and put it in the bowl at the start of the distiller.
Cooking +10 XP
Then she finely tore up the ghost leaves. They were meant to stabilise the mixture, before throwing them into the bowl too.
Cooking +1 XP
Finally, she took the juicy olives, throwing them into the small centrifuge Violet had made her, before throwing in a couple of marbles and closing the lid.
She turned the lever, spinning the centrifuge, and the oil from the olives collected in the outside bowl, slowly seeping into a beaker at the base of the centrifuge. When no more oil came out, she stopped, catching her breath for a moment. That thing really needed an improvement or something, it was still too much of a hassle to handle.
Cooking +25 XP
She poured the oil into the bowl at the start of the distiller and with a flick of her wrist put a fire under the bowl, the upside of being an elemental mage. She was mostly specialised in nature and some ice magic, but that one skill point into firebolt came in really handy for cooking and a range of other uses.
She kept a close look on the mixture as it was starting to heat up, the root slowly dissolving and, as she saw the first of the leaves shrivel as they browned, she put the top of the bowl on and opened the distiller valve.
Alchemy +100 XP
Now the recipe was set up, and she just had to wait. The game would turn the fire off automatically when the recipe was done and she didn’t have to wait around for it. Titanic varnish took about two to three hours to finish. There were better things she could do with that time.
She went over to the carpenter table and took the cedar lumber from it.
Carpentry +300 XP
Then she took the cedar wood from her inventory. It was always funny how these big items could fit in her inventory all tiny and still become this huge thing when it hit the table or when she crafted with it. Game mechanics, right?
She placed the cedar wood on the table and grabbed the small bag of linseeds. Then she slowly poured the linseeds into the funnel on top of the machine. The addition of the linseeds meant that there was a greater chance of the end product being of extra high quality. Which would mean a better boat once it was finished.
It wasn’t useful on all the items they were using, but it was good to try and get extra quality where it wouldn’t add extra time or money. Getting the best quality while staying sensible about time and cost constraints was always the best.
She turned the machine on and watched the wood slowly go towards the rotating saws.
Carpentry +100 XP
The best thing about doing this in VR? She didn’t have to worry about the noise or the dust that would normally go everywhere with one of these machines. It was nice and quiet and clean.
Willow quickly took another look at the varnish in the distiller and then left her room, walking into the rest of the house.
She loved having a house with the guild, it was cosy and she felt at home here, much more so than the place she actually lived in.
They were only a small guild, five people in total, her, Violet, Sage, Juniper and Opal. Enough for queueing up for dungeons and as a small part of a bigger group when doing raids, but not much else. Which was fine with her, they didn’t need much else.
They just needed each other.
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