Chapter 9:

The MILF Called Mother Nature


It was as if the sky and the earth had changed from a frown to a smile. From a dying wasteland to the beating heart of Aksara Online—Jason had finally arrived at Pallas Plains.

Green hills, blue skies—it reminded him of the default desktop wallpaper seen in computers at the tail end of the past century. Of good memories and better times. Even the air itself was rich with NO₂. Nostalgia and oxygen. If he had to pick only one memory to relive over and over again in AO, it had to be this—just exploring and discovering every little secret hidden in this calming champaign.

For AO, Pallas Plains was front and centre of the trailers, the promotional images, even the leaks. It was hyped beyond belief but boy, did it deliver. The game promised a world untouched by the ravages of invasive concrete jungles and perverted pollution that were so prevalent today. Here, the sun's rays remained untainted by smog and fauna roamed freely, not immortally captive in stasis tanks, all in the name of "wildlife preservation".

Sure, it was artificial, but breathing in air in public without a face mask was magical. AO didn’t revolutionise gaming or the ideas that came before it. It just so happened to be the first immersive open-world MMO on the VirtuaSim. An escape. And that was all any gamer could ever ask for.

Riding on top of Braxy, Jason noticed the small Hopbunnies following him. These critters bounced over the tall blades of grass, welcoming him as they tried their best to follow the oversized chicken. Absolutely adorable. Even if he looked elsewhere, everywhere he saw was a painting.

No words needed to be said between him and his companion. Nature was already speaking, and it was their time to listen. At that very moment, two very different people connected by a shared passion took their time, absorbing the reality right in front of them.

Jason let himself become one with Aksara Online once more, until Maniavolution reared its ugly head.

Beneath the undulating hills and vast flora, there were scars. Patches of greenery crudely shaved off, craters that formed bruises in nature’s skin and entire sections of the map excavated into gaping sinkholes—these were all man-made. Unlike the PvE-focused world of the official release, he saw the stains of battle everywhere. The embers of war were still glowing underneath the ash pile.

In the eight years this unmoderated PvP server had been around, tens of thousands of players had walked and died on these plains. The scenery had been written and rewritten by the countless battles that took place. From the echoes of tiny skirmishes and all-out wars, to the cicatrices of hollowed-out caves and fallen megastructures, endless conflict reshaped the landscape into a beautiful nightmare.

If the original Pallas Plains painted Mother Nature as a pristine maiden, then Maniavolution’s PP portrayed her as a rape victim, used by innumerable players who came and went. Both were beautiful. But only one was broken.

“This is about as far as Braxy goes. Any further and we’ll be attracting too much attention.” Alice’s voice was heavy as she dismounted her favourite fowl. As Jason followed suit, Braxy simply faded into nothingness. As if someone pushed the opacity slider all the way down, the way it just ceased to exist was terrifying, he felt.

Out of nowhere, Alice brandished her weapon, immediately reaping a section of the tall grass. As the grass fell, so too did the body of a Hopbunny.

“Dismantle your Wooden Sword and make a campfire.”

“Wait…don’t tell me we’re eating a Hopbunny?!”

“YOU’RE eating a Hopbunny.”

“Alice, that’s a Hopbunny!”

“aLiCe ThAt’s a hOPbUnnY!”

Picking it up by the hind legs, Alice dangled the corpse in front of Jason.

“Tick tock. Chop chop. Bunny’s gonna drop.”

He instinctively caught the dead animal that was tossed to him, its beady black eyes piercing a hole into his soul. He had only ever eaten Hopbunny once. By accident. As a kid, it traumatised him. Never again would he bring himself to eat the game’s mascot. Never again.

“You monster…”

“Sorry? I can’t hear you over your stomach growling. Now eat it. Before I kill another one.”

He was getting along so well with her earlier, he forgot that she was a devil. Jason felt like a hostage with a bomb strapped on him. If he didn’t commit the atrocity now, even more innocents would die.

Cursing under his breath, he disassembled his weapon into three pieces of wood, giving him enough resources to craft a campfire. There, he offered the Hopbunny into the flames, and a prayer for its soul.

“Hurry up.” Alice rushed. “If you’re fast enough, you can get everything back.”

The five-second rule.

When building a structure, there was a five-second period where resources would be fully refunded should the player change their mind. After five seconds, only a percentage of the resources would be returned if the player chose to dismantle the structure. Hopbunnies took four seconds to cook. In theory, Jason could eat this meal for free, and even have a second to spare!

The suggestion irked him, but he accepted his fate as the literal devil’s advocate. Once the Hopbunny turned into Roasted Hopbunny, he quickly dismantled the campfire. Three pieces of wood immediately magicked themselves into his inventory.

With tears in his eyes, Jason ate his meal.

“So…how does it taste?” her tone was smug, as if to rub salt into his wounds even further.

With all the hate and scorn he could muster, Jason stung back, “Like Braxy.”

Alice gasped, utterly offended. Jason nibbled on the Hopbunny like a rat, never breaking eye contact with Alice. She played with fire and got burned.

As he was done eating, Jason licked his fingers, making sure to lick his middle one slowly and deliberately for Alice.

“Alright fine. We’re even. Stop rubbing it into my face.”

“Oh wow, so that’s how your parents taught you to say sorry?”

“Shut up. How’s your hunger bar?”

“Mid. But the debuff’s gone.”

“Good. Then let’s move. Should last until we build a base.”

The two frenemies headed deeper into the centre of Pallas Plains, trying their best to avoid contact with other players. While beating them likely wasn’t a problem, you never know what tricks another player had up their sleeve. Even a mob like the Schemestress Witch could set back the party’s progress with her teleport traps. What more a human being?

As they scouted around, Alice felt oppressed by the silent treatment her companion was giving. Sure, she forced him to eat, but that was for his own good. There was no need to be this hostile, right?

“I have an idea,” she suddenly said.

“What now?”

“Since you’re recording everything, why not upload that part of you eating as a mukbang ASMR video?”


“I mean, I read somewhere that they’re all the rage again. Also, the last part where you’re licking your fingers? That’ll make for great ASMR!”


“Or…or…or why not upload it as a wildlife video? How to eat a Hopbunny (GONE SEXUAL)! Yeah with a title like that, you’ll definitely pull in the views!”

“That’s against MP4Everyone’s content guidelines. I was already kicked out from the AdCents programme. Please don’t make it worse.”

“Being a content creator is hard, huh…”

“It’s not. Just stick your cleavage in front of the camera. Boom, money.”

“So you want me to shove my boobs into your face?”

The suggestion sent Jason recoiling, instinctively putting his arms up in self-defence. How could she just propose that so casually?!

“That’s why I’m not a content creator, dumbass! I’m not here to clickbait, jailbait or any other bait. I’m telling a story, moving pictures carefully crafted to evoke emotion in the audience, not game an algorithm.”

“But why tho?” Alice scratched her head, “Why are you so set on making a movie? Just play the game and have fun.”

“Because I screwed up!”


“Look, Alice. Did you go to uni?”


“Good. Don’t. Because it’s 2064 and my parents still think that a degree is the only way to survive. Idiots. Sometimes I wonder how they made it past the worst pandemic AND the worst recession in recent history. And I’m also an idiot for listening to them. Urghh!”

“Hey! I get you’re upset, but you shouldn’t call your parents idiots!”

The urge to lash out was tremendous, but Jason couldn’t bring himself to continue the argument. Alice was just a player who wanted to enjoy the game. Devil as she was, bringing the pain of the real world to her wasn’t fair.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to snap at you.”

“It’s okay. Real life sucks, but you shouldn’t be mean to your parents, got it?”

“Got it,” he lied. That was a statement he wholeheartedly disagreed with. How privileged must she be to genuinely believe that? Wasn’t forced to go to uni, got to play and grind in an MMO all day—Alice must’ve grown up with a silver spoon.

“So you studied filmmaking in uni?”

“Yeah. Didn’t learn anything though. It was repeating the same stuff I learned from watching tutorials on MP4E. Waste of money.”

“That’s really impressive. I mean, learning all that on your own. And you’re really good, too. I watched your short film, ‘When the Sky Fell Asleep.’”

Those were the words he never wanted to hear. She watched his first-ever short. The one he hated the most. The cringe…the cringe was attacking every inch of his body. This was one of the moments where not being able to die was a curse.

“Excuse me as I go and delet—”

“—No!” she grabbed his arm in defiance, “Don’t delete it. I never knew short films even existed before then. I actually cried when the credits dropped. Please don’t delete it.”

“Okay okay, I won’t. Could you let go now?”


It felt extremely awkward. Sure, he was proud of the art he created, but he didn’t know why Alice watching them would be such a big deal. Thousands of others had viewed his work before, so why would this be any different now?

It was a question he didn’t want to answer at the moment.

Taylor J