“Hey, everyone.” Argo’s voice carried up the path; half teasing, half serious. “Room for one more?”
Kirito straightened, seeing the tall redhead stalking behind the information dealer, emerald cobras ducking in and out of her hair. “Lady Stheno!”
I was right!
Theoretically, the game designers could have planned for this. The Psiwasps’ Nest might be an unmarked part of the quest, intended to trigger an NPC’s help. Vincent showed up on multiple levels; there was no reason other youkai lords couldn’t do the same.
Only theory needed to have its eyes checked, because an NPC intended to help should have been striding tall and confident, boosting the morale of faltering players. Stheno stalked, claws clenching and releasing at her sides, all too ready to flee back down the path and away.
She’s afraid. She’s so afraid.
Kirito stepped forward to bow to her, while Agil and the rest were still gaping. “Milady. How can we help?”
“Come back alive.” Stheno’s voice shook. But she straightened her spine, and flashed the assembled mini-raid a stark glance from obsidian lenses. “Hear me, defenders of Aincrad. You face an evil our kingdom has not seen in five hundred years. A scourge upon the world we all thought dead and dust. For I… I suffered at their claws, and….” She shuddered, and dragged in a breath. “And my sister, Euryale of the Thousand Blades, took her ghastly – final – revenge.”
Agil nodded, obviously listening hard. As were they all, Kirito knew. When an NPC, a youkai lord, offered you information before a boss fight – none of them had lived this long by not paying attention.
Even if some of what they were hearing made Kirito want to grab someone and shake them until answers fell out. Defenders of Aincrad? When all the youkai lords knew they weren’t from this land?