"Why is this not working? Let's see... I did plug the power cable in, but the light is still red. So... OH! Right... I have to switch the helmet on first."
Nope, technology was not my forte. I hated it. Feeding apples to the deers in the nearby woods and going fishing was more aligned with what I liked. I understood that fishing was not very girly, but it was a lot of fun. What could I say? Going to the river with my small inflatable raft was always enjoyable; it was a good excuse to get on the water.
"Gah! I can't wear this helmet while wearing a ponytail! Why didn't I think about that? I can be so dumb sometimes."
When alone on the river, I felt a bit freer. When it was warm enough, I would take off my clothes and wear my tiny bikini. And if there were no one else around, I would even dare to strip naked. I blamed my sense of adventure for that boldness.
When I was not outdoors playing with the animals, I mostly stayed home doing creative activities. I liked drawing a lot and was pretty good at it. To me, it was more entertaining to draw a medieval castle than watching hours of TV; it kept my brain alive.
"There you go... The helmet fits better now. I just have to lay down on my bed before getting started."
The village I lived in was not very interesting. I was not talking about nature since that was the amazing part about living here; I referred to the inhabitants. All the young people like me had left for bigger cities, and it was nearly impossible to find a decent date anymore. Perhaps I was too picky, or maybe guys weren't attracted to girls who liked fishing. Who knew? But in the end, it was a bit boring around here.
Not long ago, a new video game caught my attention. I was the opposite of a gamer, so it felt so wrong to buy it. I had instant regrets when the package arrived at my door because I knew I would probably ditch it immediately after trying; That was how much of a technophobe I was.
Remembering the reasons why I had purchased this game was necessary to avoid crying. Nature and arts were my things; it was who I was deep down in my heart, and this game would supposedly match those interests. I would be a character in the middle of a forest, and I would have to build things, like a dream house or a giant fishing boat. It would be up to me to craft the 3D world around me. It seemed like something I could enjoy.
My first problem was that I had no clue how to make this thing work, but I was getting closer to figuring it out. After I managed to turn on the virtual reality helmet, I just had to say the name of the game out loud to start it; at least, that was what was supposed to happen. There was a fifty percent chance that it would fry my brain upon activation; I was cool with that.
I took a deep breath, clenched my fists and...
Chapter 1 - Valhalla
"Aaaaaah! What the hell!?"
As soon as I spoke the name of the game, my body felt all fuzzy and warm, and my eyes shut down, and now I saw a loading screen inside my head. I couldn't move a toe, and when I spoke, it was as if I was thinking... kind of. That was, by far, the most fucked up experience I had ever had in my life.
After about a minute of watching the not so entertaining progress bar, a spinning cube appeared in the middle of nowhere and talked to me in a creepy robotic voice.
"Welcome to Dive."
"Mmm... Thanks! I guess..."
"Are you playing Dive for the first time?"
"Great, I will help you set up your account. What is your first name?"
"What is your last name?"
"Welcome, Evelyn Williams. What will be your character's name?"
My character's name? What the hell was that? I knew nothing about games. I didn't think I would have to choose a character name. I thought I would just appear in a forest filled with birds, not fill up a form.
"Would you like to play solo or online?"
Playing a game with other people that were spending their life playing it was not appealing at all. All I wanted was to virtual-fish and build fun structures. I had zero interest in socializing inside a game. The last thing I wanted was to have someone criticizing what I created and making fun of me for being a newbie.
"How old are you?"
"Adult content filters are set to on by default. This will limit your gaming experience. Would you like to remove adult content filters?"
What was that all about? I was going to fish and build cute houses. I couldn't see what the adult content had to do with this, but I wanted full access to what the game had to offer. Perhaps this would allow me to walk around naked.
"Please select your world."
Several 3D pictures appeared in front of me, and I had to admit that they were all very cool. There was an arid desert, a forest with lakes, some snowy mountains, and a tropical island. At first, I wanted the forest and lakes, but since that was already what I had in real life, I changed my mind at the last minute and went for the snowy mountains.
It had a cool name too.
"Choose your game mode."
My game mode!? What the hell now? A selection of eight modes appeared in front of me with very long descriptions. Was the strategy to repulse new players or what? All I wanted was to try building a house so I could see what the game was like. At the bottom of the long list, there was a random option, though.
"Choose your weather."
"... Again? Random!"
"Choose your difficulty."
"Choose your character aspect."
"Would you like an assistant?"
"Rand... Wait... What does the assistant do?"
"The assistant will guide you through Dive, providing invaluable help. It is highly recommended for new players."
"Oh... Yes then."
"Choose your assistant’s character."
"Choose your assistant's name."
"Thank you, Evelyn. Your game setup is completed. Please wait while I am generating your world."
The magic floating cube spun on the screen for a while longer, and a slow progress bar teased me. Not being a gamer girl was one thing, but this was still exciting. Sure, the setup had annoyed me rapidly, but I wondered if I shouldn't have taken the time to read and personalize my world a bit more. On the other hand, I really just wanted to try this.
While I had fun personalizing my game, I had already forgotten about my real body that was unable to move and my mind that had turned into some sort of immersive monitor. It was the first time I experienced virtual reality.
The progress bar reached the end, and the cube announced the good news.
"Thank you, Evelyn. Your world has been generated. Prepare to DIVE!"
Everything went dark for a moment.
There was nothing.
And then there was light; everything around me turned white.
Ten feet below me, the land appeared, quickly crawling farther and farther, shaping a bare world with mountains and lakes.
Trees grew everywhere, and rocks appeared randomly around, turning this environment into something more tangible.
A sun appeared before being quickly masked by a thick layer of grey clouds.
A glacial wind hit my body, and a thick layer of snow covered ground. Heavy snowflakes fell from the newly born sky, making me freeze even more.
And then a voice.
"Welcome to Valhalla!"
Suspended mid-air above the ground, my body suddenly lost its support and fell right down. I landed flat on my belly in the fluffy snow that covered me right back.
Because the snow had broken my fall, I was unharmed, but...
I quickly raised to my knees.
"AAAAH! COLD! COLD! WHAT THE ..."
I looked at my arms to find out that I was only wearing some long gold and red-colored bracers covering my wrists and part of my hands. The rest of my arms were naked.
"What the hell am I wearing!?"
Gasping was all I could do when my eyes landed on the rest of my body. My outfit was not suitable for low temperatures. This minimalist bra and panties matching my bracers left most of my skin exposed for the snow to bite. Since this outfit was made of light metal, it didn't offer the warmth that my brain cells demanded.
"Aaaaah! This is ridiculous! It's so cold that it hurts!"
I quickly jumped out of my pile of snow, just to discover a pair of shiny metal boots perfectly molded around my feet and calves. As I wobbled back in the deep snow to look at them, I realized too late that I was on the edge of a small cliff. The snow ran away from under my feet, making me plunge headfirst to a lower level of misery.
Once again, the white powder turned my imminent death into something much more pillow-like and absorbed my fall.
But this time, I kept sliding down a hill, unable to stop myself from tumbling down.
"AAAAH! I HATE THIS GAME!"
Rolling down like in a bad movie, I finally reached a hard flat surface and stopped moving while the remainder of the small avalanche buried me back.
Shivering to death, I poked my arm out of the snow blanket and extracted my well-exfoliated body out of the white mound.
"PFfaah! Is this a joke? Why am I dressed like a princess warrior, and why is it so cold? That stupid cube never mentioned anything about icy temperature."
An unexpected girly voice startled me and made me fall back butt-first in my snow pile. Standing next to me was a cute woman wearing long blue hair and a color-matching attire looking awfully like mine. She was leaning forward with her hands on her thighs while observing me freaking out.
"Who... Who're you?"
"... Who else?"
"Nam? But... I selected solo... I thought... There isn't supposed to be any other players in my game!?"
"I'm your assistant."
"WHAT? Aren't you supposed to be a floating cube or something? I didn't expect my assistant to be a sexy girl."
"... Aren't you cold, Evelyn?"
"That's an understatement! I'm FREEZING! Make it stop! You can do that, right?"
"No. I'm an assistant, not a Goddess. If you don't do something about it, you might die of hypothermia."
"... Die? I... I can die?"
"I think so."
Well, this was a shit game! I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no idea about what to do, and now this blue-haired chick was telling me I could die. Could it get worse than that?
"I... I don't want to die! Nam, if I die here, will I die in real life too?"
"I don't know what you are talking about. Real life?"
"Yeah... Like my real body that is lying down on my bed at home. You know?"
"I'm just your assistant... I don't know about those things you are talking about."
That's all I needed, an assistant who was unable to answer questions.
"What... What do I do? I never played this game before. I'm so cold."
"You've never been to Valhalla before?"
"No! You have to help me."
"Strange... But... How do you want me to help you?"
"Tell me what to do before I freeze to death."
"I don't know... Shouldn't you find a shelter or something?"
"How am I supposed to do that? I don’t even know where I am."
"I don't know, Evelyn... Maybe we could look around for one?"
"You are useless, Nam. Why are you even here?"
"I'm sorry. I'll leave then. Good luck."
And just like that, Nam jumped in the air, made a front flip, turned into a small brilliant cube, and vanished into thin air, leaving me puzzled and alone; that was the opposite of cool.
"Where... Where did you go? HEY! ASSISTANT! COME BACK!"
Silence... Cold... I was so cold... And I blew it. Nam was gone.
This game was way too real for my taste. For a first gaming experience, it sucked big time; I wanted out, but how?
"... A shelter... Come on, Evelyn, you can do this. Her idea wasn't that stupid. If I can protect myself from that wind, it would be a good first step."
I looked around me to evaluate my options. I was on the edge of a frozen lake which was surrounded by trees and some more mountains. Behind me, the cliff from which I fell from like an idiot earlier. Being an outdoor girl, I quickly assessed that I had no tools to chop down trees and build a little something, so my best bet was to go back to my mountain and try to find some sort of cave, if that was even a thing in this game. Walking uphill would also warm me up and delay my inevitable end by a few minutes.
"I hate this game!"
My metal warriorette boots were not helping; they were so inappropriate for this slippery terrain, and it slowed down my progress considerably. My skin got numb, and I could barely open and close my fingers anymore.
Walking along the bottom of the cliff wasn't as bad because it cut some of the wind off, but I would still not last very long in those conditions. The snow was knee-deep, and I was losing hope to find something useful before it was too late.
That was until I saw something encouraging.
"Is that... a crevice? Aaaah! I... I hope it is..."
I shuffled my way to the crack in the rocky wall and looked inside.
"YES! It's big enough for me to squeeze in!"
And that was when I realized something important; my body was not my real body. The game had turned me into a hottie, and I would need to investigate this further if I were to survive. For now, my new narrow figure allowed me to easily slide sideways between the rocks and move inside the mountain.
There was indeed a small cavity inside the rock, about three meters wide by three meters long. I sat on the ground, in the dark; it felt much better, but it was still very cold.
"Stupid game! Now what? Am I just going to sit here and wait for my death to occur? That's not cool at all."
I curled into a ball and tried to remind myself that this was not real. There was no way this game could kill me in real life. Staying like this and freezing to death would probably just trigger a game over screen and return me to real-life where I would toss this virtual reality device in the trash and move on with my regular hobbies.
In all fairness, the game was as awesome as it sucked; if it hadn't been so unpleasant, it could have been a fun experience. Everything looked so real. Sure, the environment had a gaming feel to it, but everything was so credible. And Nam... For the few seconds I had interacted with her, she looked like a real person too. She was a bit of an idiot, but she had interacted with me in a very realistic manner. Until she turned into a cube and vanished into thin air, I hadn't thought of her as an AI.
And now I missed her... I buried my head deeper into my arms and knees and sobbed, whispering her name to myself...
"I'm sorry I insulted you, Nam..."
"AAAAAAH! What... What are you doing here?"
"What do you mean? You just called me."
"I... I did?"
"Yes... Sorry, I thought you wanted me back. I'll leave then."
"You are confusing me, Evelyn!"
"Stay... Please. Help me."
"You are my assistant! You must know something about this world, right?"
"Not really. I got here at the same time as you."
"But... What's your purpose if you don't know anything?"
"I'm your assistant."
If I had a frying pan right now, I would probably have smacked her in the head with it. She kept claiming she was my assistant, but she was as useful as a rock. A purpose, she must have a purpose.
"Nam, I don't know how to play that game. I've never been here before. Couldn't you at least show me how to get started?"
"I’m not sure.."
"You are not sure? Tell me!"
"I don’t know... Did you look at your menu yet?"
"Yes. You don’t know that?"
"Do I look like I know anything?"
"Slide your finger on your left forearm."
Using my frozen index, I drew a line on my arm, plowing through a layer of frost, and then a small blue projected screen appeared in front of me.
"Whaaaa... I... I can do that?"
"You just did."
"I... I know I did! I mean..."
"Look in your inventory. Do you have any useful items?"
There was indeed an inventory section. When I clicked on it, I got overexcited. I had one named "Campfire" and one named "Warm Blanket." That was it! That was what I needed to survive and get started in this world.
"NAM! LOOK! I have a campfire! How do I use it?"
"I don't know... Click on it, maybe?"
"... Are you really an assistant?"
I sighed and decided to let it go. She got me closer to survival, at least. I pressed my finger on the campfire item, and it flashed red, saying it was locked.
"Nam... It says it's locked..."
"Yes, it's normal. You have to unlock it."
"How should I know?"
"NAM! How am I supposed to know how to unlock things in this game?"
"Do you have points to unlock it?"
"... Points? What points?"
"You probably need to do things to earn points."
"Do things? Like what?"
"Oh. You can try punching me."
This AI was so bizarre. Nam really struggled to give me any useful information, and now she spat nonsense. Why in the world would I punch her? She even approached her face close to mine, offering her face as a target. I placed my hand flat on her face and pushed her away.
"NAM! What are you doing? Are you nuts?"
"You need points."
"Okay, try to make sense for once... How would punching you earn me points?"
"Because doing things might earn you points... I think. You need to try things."
"I'm not going to punch you, Nam! I'm not like that!"
"Okay. Kiss me then."
Once more, she approached her face, this time, closing her eyes. I pushed her again; I swear, if cold didn't kill me, Nam's weirdness would.
"Naaam! Gross! I'm not into girls! What are you doing!?"
"I'm your assistant. I'm assisting. You must try things. How many points do you need to unlock your items."
"Mmm... Let's see... 1 for the campfire and 5 for the warm blanket."
"Maybe a kiss can earn you one point."
"I'm not going to kiss a GIRL!"
"Then punch me!"
For the next few minutes, Nam sat in silence next to me. She didn't seem to suffer from the cold, but I was clearly struggling. Our long argumentation had warmed me up a bit, but not enough to improve my overall situation; she had only taken my mind off my hopeless destiny for a bit more than anything else.
I searched my menu for a while, but there was not much in there. It was the worst menu ever. My profile was a picture of my new body and my name, and my inventory only showed those two locked items with no information about how to unlock them.
Then a thought crossed my mind. Nam was my assistant; despite her odd behavior, she had managed to give me just enough information to make me realize some progress. She had suggested finding a shelter when we were at the lake, had told me about my menu, which was a big deal, and had explained that I needed points to unlock items. Would that mean that the punching and kissing suggestions could be legitimate too? Perhaps her help had always been disguised under her twisted personality? Maybe her odd behavior was the result of the random difficulty level I had chosen during the setup?
I looked at her; she was just there, waiting and looking so real. Her face was pretty, her long blue hair held in place by her delicate warrior headband matching her outfit; she definitely didn't look like a robot. Yet, she was one. Could I try punching her? She didn't seem to suffer from the cold, so it was fair to assume that she wouldn't feel pain either.
As long as she was not looking at me directly, maybe I could do this. I did punch a guy once when I was little because he had put a chewing gum in my hair; he was still alive today.
Without any warning, I let my fist go and landed it right on Nam's cheek. Her head twisted to the opposite side, and she fell face-first on the ground, whining.
"OOOW! EVELYN! You punched me! AAAH! You struck me so hard! It hurts!"
A wave of guilt washed over me. I rushed to her, apologizing for my life.
"NAM! Are... are you okay? I'm... I'm so sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to hurt you. I thought you couldn't feel pain. I'm sorry!"
"Aaah! Of course, I can feel pain!"
"But... You don't seem to be cold."
"I don't feel the cold, but it doesn't mean I can't feel pain."
"I'm so sorry... I don't know all those rules... I won't do it again."
"... Did you get any points at least?"
"Ah, yes... points... Let's see... Nope. It still shows zero."
"So you punched me for nothing. Great!"
"I'm so sorry, Nam! So... What do I do now?"
"I don't know. But don't punch me again. It's mean."
Nam and I sat back shoulder to shoulder, resting our backs on the frozen stone wall, and didn't add a word. I knew very well that she had made another suggestion earlier, but it would be way more complicated than punching her if I were to try it.
She was still rubbing her cheek, so even though she wasn't real, hitting her was not something I wanted to repeat; I was not a sadist. I wasn't into girls either, but kissing her for a small test couldn't be that bad. Actors were doing it all the time, after all. What did I have to lose at this point?
"Do... do you still... want me to..."
"Well, you know... kiss you?"
"You said no."
"I know... but... I need points... so..."
"Kiss me then."
"... O... okay. How... how should I do that?"
"You don't know how to kiss someone?"
"No... I do... I just... don't want to do anything bad to you again."
"Evelyn! You just punched me in the face really hard. How would kissing me be worse?"
She made me feel so bad. I punched her, and now I hurt her feelings. This was ridiculous. This game was so stupid! I wanted out, but I didn't know how to. The cold attacked my frozen body more and more, and I didn't want to play anymore.
Since I had no other options, I went for it. I quickly reached her lips with mine and returned immediately to my sitting position after the light contact.
I opened my menu and looked at my points.
"Darn! Still zero! It didn't work."
"That was not a kiss."
"Yes, it was!"
"I felt nothing. You didn't even use your tongue."
"NAM! I'm not... going to put my tongue in your mouth..."
Really, now? Was this assistant assisting me, or was she just determined to embarrass me further? I had already told her I wasn't into girls. And what was that about, anyway? This was supposed to be a game in which I would build cute houses. How come it was trying to make me do wrong things like that?
"Aaaah! Whatever! Let's get over with this!"
I grabbed Nam by the neck, squeezed my eyes shut, and gave her a long kiss, giving in to her request to use my tongue a little.
"... What... what was that noise, Nam?"
"Mmmm... You kissed me. Maybe I moaned a little?. That was so good! It was my first real kiss."
"NAM! Snap out of it! What was that noise just now?"
"Aaah... You just got 1 point, I think..."
As soon as she broke the news to me, I left her in her unjustified trance of love and rushed to my menu to check if she was right; and she was. I had 1 point. Without wasting time, I clicked on the campfire item, and it spawned right in front of us. Nam came back to the present moment and yelled at me immediately.
"EVELYN! WHAT ARE YOU DOING STARTING A FIRE INSIDE SUCH A SMALL CAVE!?"
"I'M SORRY! I'M SO SORRYYY!"
Those flames were way too close from us, making the heat unbearable, and the smoke quickly filled the small cave, asphyxiating us. We both squeezed out of the cave through the narrow crevice and then just watched the entrance smoking stupidly. Nam started shivering as well.
"Evelyn... Good job. Now that you spawned your first item, my cold protection seems to be gone."
"I'm sorry! I don't know those things. I'll spawn a new campfire here, outside."
What now? I opened my inventory once more, and my jaw dropped when I saw that my campfire that had required 1 point earlier was now unlocked, but would cost 5 points to spawn again.
"Noooo! How can that be? I don't have five points."
"No, you don't."
"But... What are we supposed to do now? We can't survive wearing those ridiculous warrior bikinis in the middle of a snowstorm!"
"No, we can't."
"Nam! Do... Do we have... to kiss again?"
"It's your world, Evelyn, I'm just an assistant."
If I hadn't messed up the campfire, we wouldn't be in this dire situation. Not only was I about to give up, but on top of that, Nam was now suffering because of me. The snowstorm seemed to be getting worse, and the night was falling on top of that. If I didn't do something about this soon, we would both turn into ice pops.
There was only one way I knew how to obtain points, and it was not that hard. Sacrificing my pride for a few minutes would mean warmth and survival.
"I'm going to kiss you until I get five points."
"... And for the warm blanket?"
"Sure, until I get ten points then! Wait... do you only want the blanket because I have to kiss you longer?"
I rolled my eyes but then wrapped my frozen hands around Nam's neck and planted my lips on hers.
"Mmm... Your hands are so cold, Evelyn!"
"Shut up, Nam!"
This felt SO much better. Nam and I were sitting shoulder to shoulder wrapped in the warm blanket I had just unlocked, and the campfire in front of us was doing a darn good job at defrosting our bodies. The burning wood's crackling had replaced our silence.
I shyly looked at Nam. Her cheeks were all red, and mines were probably identical. What we had to do to unlock those two items weighed on my soul.
"Nam... I'm sorry."
"I punched you earlier."
"It's alright. Your kisses made me feel a whole lot better."
"Aaaah, you had to mention that. I told you. I'm not into girls."
"Your blue hair is pretty, though."
"Your red hair too."
"In real life, my hair is not fiery red like this. My hair is black."
"You speak nonsense. THIS is your world, Evelyn. Valhalla."
It was so bizarre. Nam was remarkably unaware of anything exterior to this game. I should refrain from mentioning my real world to her, but she must have known how to leave this place, even if it was unconscious knowledge. If she were really an assistant, she should be able to help me with that in her own silly way.
"Nam, do you know how to leave Valhalla?"
"If you die, maybe. I'm not sure.."
"No, I mean... leaving. Like going to another world."
"There is no other world than Valhalla."
"Mmm... Well, Valhalla sucks!"
"How can you say that? Don't this fire and blanket make Valhalla a bit better?"
"... Well, I guess it does... somehow."
"I'm sure there are plenty more things you can do in this world to make it better."
As usual, I was probably wrong about the game, and Nam was right. I had picked Valhalla from the list during the setup because I had found the snow and mountains inspiring. Sure, I didn't expect to almost die of cold and have to kiss a female to acquire fire, but now that we were wrapped together under our snow-covered blanket, it was proof that things could get better.
Perhaps I should put my negativism aside for a moment and try to enjoy this game a little bit more.
"Nam, why are we dressed like sexy warriors? I mean, it fits my body perfectly, but it doesn't match this world's weather one bit. We are almost naked, and there is snow everywhere."
"Aren't you warm now?"
"I... I am... but... I meant..."
"If you are warm, how is this outfit inappropriate, then?"
"You can take it off if it annoys you that much."
"WHAT? NO! Nam! That's not what I was saying at all. I was talking about... I don't know. Fur coats would be better."
I shook my head at Nam's suggestion and decided to broach a different topic. I gently slid my finger on my arm to open my menu. In my inventory, there were a few more items available... Items that I needed.
"Look, Nam... After unlocking the blanket, a few more items appeared on the list. There is an axe, a pickaxe, and this super expensive item there. I don't know what it is. It says it's a small building core."
"Well, what is it?"
"An axe is a tool to cut wood, the pickaxe is..."
"Nooo, I meant the building core, what is it? Why is it 500 points?"
"I don't know. It's probably important."
"It is obviously related to buildings in this game. How do I go about obtaining 500 points? The axe and pickaxe are 15 points each, which is manageable through kissing, but 500 points... it would take days of kissing. There must be a better way."
"You don't like kissing me? I have no problem kissing you for days."
"Nam! I'm not into girls! I told you."
"It didn't feel like it."
Kissing a girl for days wasn't my idea of what this game would be about. I couldn't count on Nam to understand that, of course. It would be essential to find a different way to accumulate points, a faster way. When Nam asked me to punch her to see if it would generate points, it was proof enough that other methods might possibly exist in this world. Somehow, I was lucky that the punching wasn't a valid one to make those points; I didn't even want to imagine myself having to hit her repeatedly to obtain a new blanket, even though she was just an AI.
"Evelyn, I'm tired. Can we go to sleep?"
"... Like, here?"
"Yes. It's warm. We should sleep close to each other."
"O... okay. Sure."
We placed our headbands aside and laid down side by side, wrapped in the big comfy blanket. The snow was still falling, but the wind had died down considerably. This fictional world was so beautiful, even at night.
Still overwhelmed by my arrival in Valhalla, I knew I would have a hard time falling asleep. But perhaps that was the answer I was looking for. If I were to close my eyes and drift away to sleep, maybe it would disconnect me from the game and return me to the real world; that theory was worth exploring.
But if it were to work, would I still decide to trash the virtual reality helmet along with that game? Since we had this warm fire and shared a comfy blanket, it wasn't nearly as bad anymore. Perhaps I could play just a bit longer to figure things out.
"Nam? Are you asleep?"
"Mmm... not yet."
"I... I would like to have this axe tomorrow. Do... Do you want to help me get a few more points tonight?"
Nam turned to her side, and I did the same. As we inched closer, there was no way to avoid touching each other, if only for comfort. She placed her smooth leg in between mines, and my arm slid under her neck.
"Don't you go imagining things, okay?"
"I'm just your assistant."
"Yeah, don't enjoy it too much, Nam. It's just because I need my new tools."
I didn't remember exactly when we fell asleep, but one thing I quickly discovered was that sleeping didn't log me out. When Nam and I had awakened, we were still wrapped inside the big blanket buried in a good six inches of snow. Thinly dressed as we were, our extraction was a cold one.
The campfire had died, but it was okay. The weather was much more clement than yesterday. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the rising sun was almost warm. I didn't have a thermometer, but I could tell we were no longer below the freezing point.
Nam carefully folded the blanket after removing as much snow as possible from it. We would certainly not abandon it here. It would cost me another ten points to get a new one.
"Evelyn, how many points do you have this morning?"
"Oh... hehe... I don't know. I didn't check."
"We kissed a lot last night."
"NAM! You can't say things like that! You know it was only practical."
"Maybe for you. I enjoyed it a lot."
"Naaaaam! You say it on purpose to embarrass me."
Of course, she wasn't doing it on purpose. It was just her strange personality. I looked at my menu earlier, and I had accumulated 23 points. It was a bit of a surprise, but it meant that we had been at it for quite a long time last night.
"So, since it is not nearly as cold today, we should take this opportunity to set up a small shelter in the woods near the small frozen lake. We need to find food and water as well."
"No, we don't."
"No? You don't eat?"
"I don't think so. At least not right now."
"Are you hungry, Evelyn? I'm not."
"Actually... Now that you are mentioning it, not really."
"Good, so let's go build our shelter then."
As my blue-haired companion dug out our headbands from the deep snow, I started to understand a little bit more how my assistant worked. It was more of a suggestion based help than a detailed manual. Probably the creator of Dive wanted the players to discover things by themself at their own pace while avoiding leaving them stuck with a solutionless problem. Perhaps he wished the users to get comfortable within the game before adding another burden to their already difficult situation.
"Alright, let's go."
I placed my headband armor on my head and led the way.
Our metal boots were still slippery, and our outfit still made no sense whatsoever. Even though it was not minus seven million degrees anymore, wearing an armored bikini during winter wasn't ideal. While we were on the move, it wasn't too bad, but by the time we got to the lake, we had to wrap ourselves in our warm blanket for a while. It was also an opportunity to kiss some more to gather the missing points I needed for my tools.
Following that little break, we crossed the frozen lake and reached the forest on the other side.
"Okay, Nam. I want to try my axe. I hope it's going to work well."
"If you use it to cut wood, it will work well. That's what axes are for."
"Are you always stating the obvious?"
Rolling my eyes, I opened my menu and entered my inventory. It broke my heart to spend fifteen hard-earned points for that, but I had no other choice; I unlocked the item and dragged it in front of me. The axe appeared and fell on the ground heavily.
"Ah! It worked. Look!"
I retrieved the axe that had sank in snow and placed it on top of my shoulder.
"Woah... That's not a light one. Let's find a dead tree to test it."
For a few minutes, I walked around the forest and Nam followed me quietly, just observing what I was doing.
The prospective of cutting down branches and trees and starting to build something was much more aligned with what I had expected from this game. If I wanted to sleep without having a hot chick clinging to me all night, a warm home was mandatory, even if it just was a little shelter.
But the more I walked between the trees, the more I realized that something odd was going on.
"Hey, Nam. Why are there no dead trees around here? That's kind of odd, don't you think?"
"I don't know."
"No surprise there. Is it a game thing? Aren't trees dying?"
"I have no idea. To me, they are just trees."
"Ah, whatever! I'll try it on this small one. Stay back, I don't want to chop you by accident. Mind you, it might earn me some points."
Nam, shivering again, placed the warm blanket on the ground a bit farther and wrapped herself in it. I would have to join her soon to warm up, but it could wait a bit longer; first, that giant plant had to go down.
With a six inches trunk, it was about the smallest tree I had found so far. I rubbed my hands together and was ready for work.
"You, Mr. Tree, are going down!"
I had cut trees in real life more than once. During my small fishing trips around my village, I had camped more than once on random shores, and I had no problem getting what I needed to start a fire, which occasionally involved small tree cutting. That said, It was the first time I attempted to cut such a big one, but the technique should be the same.
With a powerful swing, my new axe circled around me and hit the base of the tree.
A big unpleasant shock traveled from the tool all the way up to my neck; that was not normal. I looked at my target, and there was a very generic dent in it, not matching the wound that the axe should have inflicted on it.
Puzzled, I lifted my axe again and struck the tree one more time, which resulted in the same discomfort. I had no confidence that my assistant would be useful, but it was worth asking anyway.
"Nam? What's wrong with the tree?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it feels all wrong when I hit it. I should be better at it. I cut many trees in real life."
"Real life again, uh? You are speaking of strange things. Have you ever cut a tree in Valhalla before?"
"Well, obviously not."
"So, how can you be good at it? You need more experience."
As soon as she said that, I swiped my finger on my forearm and checked my menu. My instinct was right because there was a new flashing tab in my profile; it was a new section for my skills. When I opened it, I saw one item; woodcutting. It was a level one skill, and I had 2 points out of 1000 in it. Logic dictated that to reach level 2, I would need to swing my axe 998 more times.
"I get it now... Thanks, Nam!"
"So, you are going to keep fighting that tree?"
"You bet! We need wood to make fire and build things. I'm not going to spend my day kissing you every time I need a campfire. This is a much better way."
Even if the cold was biting my exposed skin, I restarted hacking at the tree with renewed energy. Even though the trunk's physical damage wasn't showing the same way as in real life, the cut got a bit deeper after twenty minutes of work, which was encouraging.
I had accepted that low skill and a big tree would be a lengthy combo, but the sleepiness started attacking me after a while. It was not even noon, so that was a bit strange.
"God, I'm tired."
"You should rest, Evelyn."
"But... I'm not physically tired... I feel fine... I just want to sleep."
"If you need to sleep, you should sleep."
"Nah, I'll just push through. We can just go to bed earlier tonight."
Nam's little "Okay" began to sound suspicious. Every time I said something that didn't make sense in the game, she was just saying that "okay" in a tone that meant she didn't have any intention to argue with me, even though it was probably a bad idea to ignore her. I stared at her for a second before grumbling and stubbornly returning to my task.
I could do nothing to fight this tiredness; the more I worked, the sleepier I got. I even started to feel dizzy on this last hit, which made me drop my axe and step sideways, like a drunk person. I looked at my blue companion for guidance.
"Nam... I... I don't feel so good... What is... happen... ing?"
As she was replying unintelligibly, my eyes rolled up, and I collapsed into a pile of soft snow; the tree had won.
"Ah, finally! You are awake."
"N... Nam? What happened to me?"
"You fell asleep."
"I... I did?"
"Yes, I don't understand why you kept hitting that tree, Evelyn. When I feel tired, I take a nap. Your behavior is so strange."
In the real world, it didn't work like that at all. If we overworked, we would get tired, and the next morning we would feel sore. Was it possible that I wouldn't get physically exhausted in this game, but instead, I would get sleepier and sleepier? If that were the case, it would take some getting used to.
At least, when I passed out, Nam dragged me back to our warm blanket and kept an eye on me. That made her look a bit friendlier than she was so far. It was reassuring to know that she had some empathy built-in inside her personality.
"Thanks for taking care of me, Nam."
"I'm your assistant."
"Hehe... Yes you are. So, do you know how much longer it will take me to take down this tree?"
"I don't know. Let me go check for you."
The pretty blue-haired girl got off our blanket and walked to my damaged tree. She touched it with her delicate hand, and a small projected screen opened, similar to my personal menu. Almost right away, she came back to me, having to lift her knees high as she was sinking in the deep snow.
"You are about halfway. If you keep going, it will probably fall down this afternoon."
"Nam, how did you do that?"
"Do what? Walking? I just lifted my knees one at the time and..."
"No, silly! You touched the tree, and a small menu opened."
"Oh? The object status?"
"Yes, whatever you call it. How did you do that?"
"Well, I simply double-tapped the tree."
"Why didn't you tell me how to do that earlier? What kind of assistant are you?"
"How am I supposed to know what you don't know, Evelyn?"
"I can't ask questions about things I don't know! You are my assistant! You have to show me these kinds of things! Aaaah! Nevermind. Is it something I can do on every object?"
"I think so."
I turned around and double-tapped on the tree next to me, causing a small status screen to pop up. It showed that it was a level 5 tree with a full health bar. I tried the same on a rock poking out of the snow, and this time it said it was level 3. That was probably the most useful thing Nam had taught me since I arrived in Valhalla.
It was time to test something else.
"Nam, come here. Sit next to me."
"Oh? Are we kissing again?"
"No! Come here."
The sexy blue warrior effortlessly let her butt fall next to me, wondering what I was going to do next.
"Okay, don't move. I want to try something."
I double-tapped her headband, and what I had hoped for happened; a small screen opened, displaying her character status.
"Aaah, cool. I can see all your info!"
"Hey, you okay?"
That was unexpected. While I played in Nam's menu, she was frozen; that was good to know. I could potentially freeze her if she tried to kiss me for no reason.
There was not much I could do in her menu, but I found some interesting details. Most of her info was set to random, preventing me from seeing things like her level, personality traits, or skills. I did see her health bar, though, and her description said that she was my assistant. She also had an inventory like mine, but it was empty.
As soon as I closed her menu, she started moving again.
"Nice, Nam. I was able to check your profile."
"Is it that extraordinary?"
"Well, to me, it is."
"You are so odd, Evelyn."
"Ah, I'm just learning, okay? I'll go finish that tree now."
Happy from having discovered a few new things, I went back to my axe and attacked my tree again with the firm intention of defeating it.
During my laborious task, I learned even more. First, I wasn't sweating; that was quite a perk. It didn't seem that showering was needed in this world, or brushing our teeth. I felt fresh like a rose even after almost a full day in the game. I also found that I was not getting sore despite the hard work; I did have to take another nap due to my energy bar draining fast, but my muscles were a hundred percent fine. I kind of wished it worked like that in real life.
As for my minimalist outfit, as dumb as it sounded, it was growing on me. Sure, it was stupid cold around here, and wearing a bikini-style armor was a doubtful choice, but it was extremely comfortable. Since my body was almost too perfect and Nam's was equally hot, there was no shame in showing it off. In real life, there was always someone somewhere to criticize my appearance. So this world made me feel better about who I was.
From a functional perspective, even though my stereotyped sexy girl armor wasn't the best in terms of weather resistance, it was a perfect fit; I could move any way I wanted without a tiny bit of discomfort as if I were naked.
"Die! Die! Diiiiie!"
This last axe chop had caused the tree to start crackling. I quickly walked away from it and observed the satisfying scene. Slowly but surely, the tree began to lean; there was no going back; it was falling.
When it hit the ground, a giant cloud of powdery snow enveloped me, and pine needles rained on me.
"NAM! I GOT IT!"
"Was that sarcasm?"
"I'm not sure what else to say. Keep chopping?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, you need to cut off the branches and trunk, no?"
"Did you absolutely need to rain on my parade?"
"I'm your assistant."
"Of course, you are!"
Sighing, I got closer to the fallen tree. My goal was to build a small wooden shelter, so I had to get rid of the useless branches by sliding the axe's bit along the big ones as I would do in the real world.
As I chopped them off, those tiny branches and needles just popped off and vanished in thin air.
"Nam? Did you see that?"
"Yes. You are cutting branches."
"I know, but they are vanishing."
"It's fun to watch. Keep going."
And that was what I did. I cleared the remaining of my large branch and was ready to cut it off. I lifted the axe above my head and landed it exactly where I wanted. I repeated the move a couple of times and quickly understood that it would be much easier than cutting the tree itself.
"One last hit, and that should do it... Look at this, Nam, the first piece of our shelter!"
I hit the branch one last time; it detached from the tree trunk and stupidly vanished the same way the smaller ones did, sending me into panic mode.
"HEY! WHERE DID IT GO!?"
"MY BIG BRANCH! WHERE DID IT GO!?"
"In the pile with the rest?"
"...In the pile?"
Curious, I turned around and found that near the tree's base was a little stack of wood planks. It looked like what I had cut so far magically turned into proper planks automatically. Not too sure if I believed this or not, I quickly stripped another branch and cut it off. I went back to the pile, and it had indeed added a bunch of planks to it.
"NAM! I'm creating wood! A lot of it."
"Yes. It happens when you cut trees."
"Stop being so excited for me. It's embarrassing."
"I just don't see how special this is."
"Yeah, well, it's probably because you stayed warmly wrapped in my blanket all day while I worked my butt off."
"You could have asked for my help. If we had shared the work, it would have gone twice as fast."
"... You can cut trees too?"
"... And you can do mining?"
"And you just tell me that now?"
"You didn't ask. I'm just your assistant."
Throwing snowballs at Nam was the best solution I found to let my frustration out. I didn't hit her once, but at least it felt good to try. She was now hiding behind a tree, but I wouldn't let her get away with this so easily.
I opened my inventory and unlocked the pickaxe with my 15 remaining points I had collected while kissing with Nam undesirably.
"Alright, Nam. Use this pickaxe and go mining something useful."
"I dunno, basic stuff that I might need in the future. Whatever you find. Come back in about an hour. I'll continue collecting wood for our shelter."
Leveraging Nam's presence was not something I had thought of doing until now. It would have been useful to know that she could interact with my tools earlier, but it was too late for regrets. At least I would be able to work in peace without having someone staring at me. I just had to make sure I didn't pass out again while she was away.
I did feel a bit guilty, though, because Nam had left without the warm blanket, and she would be on her own for a full hour; it was the end of the day already, and the temperature had started to drop. Also, I didn't even ask her or myself if there were wild creatures in that forest. There were some animals on the cover of the game box, so I hoped she wouldn't get in trouble because of me; so far, I had not heard a single bird singing and didn't see any pawprints in the snow, so it was probably best not to worry too much. Perhaps, like food, these will come at a later point in the game.
For the next hour, I kept cleaning my big tree, very focused on my task, and my pile of wood became huge; it was so awesome to see the game stacking it so neatly for me. I decided it was time to prepare a little campfire. Nam would be returning soon and would certainly appreciate some warmth. The good thing was that this time around, I would not have to make out with her to get enough points to spawn one.
I grabbed one of the planks and carried it near the area I had selected for our shelter. I placed it on the ground and returned to pick up another one. When I came back with the second plank, the first one was shockingly gone. The imprint in the snow clearly showed that it was where I had left it.
"Nam? It's not funny. Bring the plank back here."
Outside the wind in the trees, there was no sign of her. I grunted and dropped my new plank on the ground... and before my eyes, it disappeared.
"Wait... What the..."
A girly voice from behind startled me and made me fall in the snow.
"NAM! Damnit! Can't you be sneakier?"
"You are too tense. You always scream and make a fuss about everything."
"I'm not too tense! I'm having a problem. If I take wood out of my pile and place it here, it disappears."
"Where did it go?"
"I don't know... Wait... Did it go back to my stack?"
"You could try again to see if that's the case."
Another suggestion from my assistant. Which meant I should listen and test it. I jogged back to my wood stack while Nam, shivering, went back to the blanket and wrapped herself in it; more than ever, I felt guilty for having asked her to go mining without anything to warm herself up.
I grabbed another plank from my pile and just tossed it away. It landed a bit farther and tumbled in the snow before vanishing. It reappeared on top of the stack.
"STUPID GAME! What the hell! What do you want me to do with wood if the system doesn't let me use it?"
Storming back to Nam and I joined her under the warm blanket. She moved closer to me, and I felt her skin touching mine; the poor thing was frozen, so I didn't have the heart to push her away. I actually decided to wrap my arm around her and rub her arms to transfer more of my body heat.
"So, what now? I can't build a shelter! And I can't make a fire either."
"You can spawn a new one."
Knowing that I ran out of points because of the tools, I still opened my inventory to double-check.
"I have no points left. I shouldn't have spawned that pickaxe. Did you find minerals at least?"
"Yes, some stone and iron. Look in your Ressources tab there."
"Hey, that's another new tab. I have 53 wood, 5 stones, and 2 iron. Good job, Nam!"
"Yes, but I'm really cold now."
"Well, it doesn't look like we are going to have a shelter for tonight, so I guess I'll have to put my pride aside and kiss you enough to get 5 more points."
"I'm sorry, Evelyn. If I knew another way, I would tell you."
"Nah, it's fine. It's not like we have an alternative. Let's get to it before it gets too dark."
I could tell that Nam was secretly happy about this. She closed her eyes and had this little smile on when she turned to me to get started. I had to admit, she was very pretty, and I could consider myself lucky that my assistant wasn't a troll or something uglier.
I leaned toward her to meet her lips. My reluctance had faded since the first time we had to do this, so it was just a bit easier than before. Half-assing our make-out session would bring me nowhere anyway as the game seemed to know when I pretended. I used just a bit more tongue this time around to make sure I would collect those precious points in a timely fashion.
Nam shivered a little, but this time it was not because of the cold temperature. It was obvious that she loved it when we were kissing. When her hand reached my waist and then hesitated to actually touch me, it made me understand that it was probably harder for her in a way; doing something she loved with someone who didn't really want her was probably an awful feeling; perhaps she even felt abused. She was an AI, but I couldn't help but be concerned about her emotions.
Half an hour later, we ended our kissing session, and I brought up my menu. Based on prior experiences, it had done about the amount of time needed to collect 5 points.
This time had been different, though.
"Hey! I got 17 points... How come?"
"You were more into it this time. Maybe it helped."
"More into it? Yes, I suppose I was. I didn't want to take the risk to do this for nothing."
"And you liked doing it too."
"What!? No! I... I didn't like it! I told you! I don't like girls!"
"Then why did you get more points this time?"
"Shush! I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"I think you liked it."
Using my finger, I spawned a comforting campfire that would last until the morning; it felt so good. With my mind at peace knowing we would have another comfortable night, I tried to solve my resource mystery.
It didn't seem that I was allowed to move my freshly collected resources to a different location on the land; there must have been a reason for that. One of the most pressing questions I had was this other extra item I had in my inventory; building core. It was costly, and I would need to make out for hours, if not days, with Nam to gather those 500 points. There must be a better way to collect this currency.
"I need to know what this Building core is, Nam."
"Yes. You have to unlock it."
"But... 500 points. How do you want me to do that? I mean, kissing you to get a few points is one thing. But spending days making out wouldn't be fun for anybody, right? There must be a better way."
"Then try new things."
"Try new things? I tried to punch you, and it didn't work."
"Don't punch me again, please. It really hurt. I didn't like it."
"No, I won't. But I don't know what else to try."
"You got more points this time because you liked kissing me."
"That again? What are you suggesting this time? That we have lesbian sex?"
"I'm willing to try that, mmm..."
"NAM! It's not funny."
That assistant was poisonous, putting ideas like that in my head. I did remove the adult filters during the game setup, but I didn't expect it to end up like this. Since I randomly selected everything, it was hard to tell what caused these twisted game mechanics.
Yet, I needed to progress if I wanted to have an opportunity to get back to the real world one day. My survival instinct was too strong to let myself die, so I couldn't throw myself down a cliff to end this; it was too scary. Anyway, I had tried that already by accident yesterday.
Nam was not really a person since the game had generated her. She sure looked real, but my point was that she wouldn't exist anymore once I was out of the game. This meant that nobody would judge me if I were to do something with her than what I would do in real life.
"Nam... Take off your top..."
"Don't make me repeat... It's embarrassing enough as it is."
She slid her finger on her forearm to open her menu, she pressed on her picture, and then double-tapped on her metal warrior top; it disappeared from her body, leaving her breast-naked in front of me. I wasn't sure if I was more intrigued by how perfect her boobs were or by the way she had removed her clothing.
"What!? You can do that?"
"Yes. It's the only way I can take it off. It's the same for you, I'm sure."
Now that she mentioned it, I didn't even attempt to take off any parts of my outfit outside my headband. But since it was made of light metal and very form-fitting, Nam was probably right; I wouldn't be able to take it off without the character menu; I had learned something.
"Alright, Nam... I'm... going to try things... but don't get the wrong idea! It's just for the points."
I invited her to lay down on her back, which she did. Because of her cheeks' bright color, I knew that she was looking forward to experiencing what I was about to do. I laid down next to her and placed my hand on her ultra-soft belly, and then I pressed my lips on hers.
In a slow circular motion, my hand caressed her smooth abs. The way she arched her back proved that she enjoyed this moment more than just a little. If I were giving Nam more pleasure, it would possibly get me more points, which would be consistent with what she had suggested earlier.
The game was so real, probably even better than real-life in an odd way. I couldn't find any imperfection anywhere on her skin, not even a single body hair; it was strange from a human perspective since our uniqueness rested on our flaws.
I carefully dragged my fingers higher on her chest and arrived at the limit of her breasts. Her metal bra had concealed them well; she had a good-sized pair, and I couldn't believe that I was going to play with them. When I placed my palm over her boob, it was so warm.
"Aaaanh! Ev... Evelyn!"
"Shhht... Please, don't make it more awkward than it is."
"Aaah! But... you are massaging my... It... It feels so good."
"It's just for a short time... Hang in there."
The feeling coursing through my veins was awful. It was as if I was abusing her just to get points. There was no doubt that Nam loved her life at the moment, but from a moral standpoint, I should be better and accept that there was some good to take from that situation. Where else would I get this opportunity to experiment with a cute girl like her? Fooling around with a female had never been on my to-do list, but since it was unavoidable, I could at least try to enjoy this experience with her instead of treating it like a transaction. Nam wasn't my ATM.
For many long minutes, I tried to relax with my blue warrior, who was melting in my arms like butter. I gradually became more adventurous; I kissed her neck, then her shoulders before I reached her very comfortable breasts with my tongue. Shyly, I licked around her nipple and even sucked a little on it.
Her approving moans were crystal clear, which made me smile. Definitely, Nam wasn't the worst person to experiment on.
Nam was deeply asleep now; perhaps the sensations I had provided had drained her health bar. She also went mining before we cuddled, after all, so she must have been exhausted.
This quiet moment was great. It was night time, the fire crackled discreetly, and there was not a cloud above us. There were way more stars in this night sky than I could see in real life. It was just beautiful.
I pulled out my menu to see what my little adventure with Nam had earned me.
"No way... Seriously? I can't believe it! She was right!"
Right next to my profile picture, I could see how many points I had collected.
"... 734 points!"