25 Anna the Bard
The three hurried outside and quickly drank antidotes to cure themselves from the poison. They stopped in the middle of the wooden bridge and waited for the shopkeeper to move outside. Right below them was the plaza square, filled with players unaware of the battle that was about to happen right above them.
Astrid prepared herself to attack. "Our best chance of taking it down is doing a Defense Break and Backstab combo, but we need a way to either stun it or lock it in place. I could do a close up stun, but it would be risky." She sighed. "It's our best chance right now, so we can give it a try."
"I'll distract her while you sneak up behind to stun," Luna said and activated Endurance, a skill that leaves her with one health point if a knock out move hits her.
Astrid used Invisibility and moved slowly towards the crazed NPC as Luna provoked the target. Once she was a few meters away from the NPC, the wings blocked her way as if it could sense her. Then, the shopkeeper's attention switched to her. The NPC flew up in the air and hurled large black needles made from the same material as her wings. Luna quickly moved in front of Astrid to block the needles using her shield. At the same time, the bard played a tune and set up a protective force field around them.
Usually, only bosses and mini bosses are able to sense players who are invisible. This NPC is at the level of a dungeon boss, Astrid thought.
"You don't see this every day." Frisk, the second-in-command of the mage guild Jupiter and Pio's opponent during the first preliminary round, found himself in front of the battle between an NPC shopkeeper and three girls. He was holding a half-eaten sweet potato.
"Frisk! We could use some help!" Astrid shouted as soon as she saw him.
The mage recognized her. "I don't exactly get what's happening, but if you ladies need my help then I'm on it!" He kept his sweet potato and readied his staff.
"Do you happen to have a wind spell?"
"Aye. I have one, but I am mainly an earth and fire mage."
"The purple smoke is poisonous, so we need you to use the wind spell to redirect it away from us and players around the area. Do you think you can also lock the NPC in place with an earth spell?"
The Jupiter mage nodded. "Aye. Leave it to me."
As the NPC hurled another batch of needles, Frisk summoned a wall of earth to protect all four of them. The bard cast buffs on the Jupiter mage. As they waited until the NPC stopped throwing needles at them, they noticed purple smoke at their feet. Immediately, Frisk cast a wind spell to drive the smoke up to the sky, where it could safely disperse without harming anyone.
"I thought fights weren't allowed in town," said Frisk.
"They aren't. This is an unusual case," Astrid replied.
Once the series of needle attacks were over, they prepared themselves for the combo attack. Frisk waited until the NPC flew nearer to the ground before casting a ground spell to swallow up half of the shopkeeper's body. Luna immediately ran in and did a direct hit using Ground Break. Astrid followed next with her ultimate attack, Backstab. It did enough damage to defeat the shopkeeper.
The girls collapsed and smiled in relief.
"Thank goodness we survived!" Luna said happily.
"I really thought we were going to die," said the bard.
Frisk stood still. "So, can anyone tell me why an NPC was running around attacking players?"
"We don't know either, Frisk. It was already in attack mode when we got to the shop," Luna replied. "Maybe the bard can tell us."
The female bard began to speak, "It happened suddenly. One moment, she was just acting normally and saying the same lines she always says. When it got to my turn, she froze in place and suddenly choked me. I managed to break free. Then, she targeted the other players. You two came in right after that."
Astrid walked over to the dismembered machine and lightly kicked its head. It dissolved into nothing, leaving not a single drop or clue.
"Someone tinkered with the program," concluded Astrid.
"Are you saying someone hacked the place?" Luna asked.
"NPCs don't normally go on a rampage and start attacking players."
"You have a point there. Who would do this?"
Astrid's expression turned serious. Why didn't any moderator arrive? Don't they usually have valkyries patrolling the area?
She looked up at the tall tower where the moderators resided. It was known as the White Tower, a symbol of power and authority to every player. According to rumors, the creator of Aries didn't live there. Instead, he chose to hide away in a mountainous area where a dragon guarded the entrance to his hideout.
"Well, I have to go now. I hope nothing like that happens again. Stay safe!" Frisk waved and once again took out his unfinished sweet potato.
"Thanks for the help, Frisk!" Astrid waved back.
"Aye. No problem, ladies." He smiled and walked off.
Once Frisk was out of sight, the bard stepped in between Astrid and Luna. "Thank you for saving me! That was so cool! You are so cute! I mean... Your cat ears are so cute, which makes you cute! Please don't think I'm weird." She coughed. "Anyway, please let me craft you two some outfits as thanks!"
Astrid laughed awkwardly. "There's really no need to..."
Luna grabbed the bard's hands with a serious look on her face. "Please make me look cool and badass."
The bard gave a salute. "Leave it to me!"
Astrid whispered to her guildmate, "Hey, uhh... Luna? Do we really have to dress up?"
"Come on, Astrid! She's giving us free clothes!"
The guildmaster glanced at the bard who was looking extremely excited. She couldn't bear to wipe out the huge grin on the girl's face.
Astrid sighed. "Alright."
The bard girl led them to the Mir Craft Store, where there were workbenches and other tools free for players to use. Mir was the only town that had such a store, so guildless players often went there to craft costumes or accessories. Guild headquarters are provided with a crafting room with tools and cabinets to store their crafting items.
In Aries, the appearance of equipments could be modified through crafting. Players could choose from a set of available designs for the equipment. Only players with max level crafting could create their own designs. The bard was one of the few players with maxed out crafting skills.
Luna and Astrid found themselves wearing one of the bard's own original designs, a maroon-colored French maid outfit. The bard added a cat tail on Astrid to match her cat ears.
The bard started nose-bleeding like a maniac. "I never thought I'd get to use this design on someone. I'm in heaven!"
"How is this badass?" Luna asked as she examined herself in the mirror.
Astrid remembered something. "Right. We didn't get your name."
The bard did a peace sign. "My name is Anna. I am a traveling bard and seamstress. I go from city to city in search of cute girls I can make costumes for! Tell me. Are there other cute girls in your guild?" She leaned forward with a huge smile on her face. Her eyes were shining brightly like the golden armor Dick Gaylord liked to polish so often.
Astrid paused to think. "Well, Lyria is a beauty and Amelie looks like a guy."
"All of us in the guild are girls," Luna added.
Anna's eyes shone even brighter. "An all-girl guild?" She started breathing heavily. "Do you need a bard and seamstress? Please let me join your guild!"
"I thought you like traveling."
"Well, I can't let go of this rare opportunity of getting to join an all-girl guild! Ahh! Surrounded by pretty girls I can dress up!" Anna was deep inside her imagination, turning around until she got dizzy and lost balance.
"Luna, should we take her in? I mean, it'd be useful having a bard in the guild..." Astrid whispered to the lady knight while Anna was distracted by her fantasies.
Luna shrugged. "As long as she's nice and doesn't cause trouble, I'm fine with it."
"Anna, come with us. We'll introduce you to the others."
The bard cried tears of joy. "Thank you so much!"