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The guild sauntered into the capital city of the dwarves. It had been built inside a cave and decorated with the most beautiful stone carvings Willow had ever seen. It took her breath away as she looked around.

There were so many beautiful things to see around her. She hadn’t been to the city before, it just hadn’t been on her way anywhere, it was kind of an out-of-the-area location. But she totally should have come here before, because there was no time to explore today, they were here for just a single goal, the quest item.

When they couldn’t come up with whatever item or skill could complete the ‘beard of a woman’ item, they decided to follow the single clue they had, that it would come from the same location as where the ribbon binding Fenrir came from, from the dwarves. So, that was their goal today, find out whatever they could in this city instead.

Sage: Let’s split up, see what we can find.

Willow nodded, they would be able to cover the whole city sooner if they all went their own way. She started following a street on her right side and not long after, Violet joined her too, simply walking next to her.

Violet: What are we looking for?

Rotnem: Anything that could give us a clue?

Meadow: Which basically doesn’t mean anything. As we have no idea what the clue could even be. Just that it’s probably somewhere around here.

She sighed, getting distracted by some intricate carvings on the side of a building. Willow could barely believe how complicated it was. Of course, this had all been created on a computer, this was just digital and even though she could feel every rise and fall of the stone, of the ‘carving’, the actual thing she felt had just been created digitally, no real sculpting involved. But that didn’t stop her from marvelling at the details.

Juniper: OF COURSE! OF COURSE!

Willow almost jumped, even though it was just a message, no sound or whatever.

Sage: What?

Juniper: I found it!

Juniper: I think.

Willow checked Juniper’s marker on the map, she was in the trade district, then she looked at Violet, who nodded. That was the best news they had all week, and they made their way towards Juniper.

Juniper was staring at a building with a ‘clothing seller’ on one side and a ‘weapon store’ on the other side. Juniper grinned as she pointed at the stone signboard over the door.

Juniper: Here. I think this is it.

The sign said ‘barber’. Which, sure… That would have to do with beards, generally, but what did it have to do with the beards of women?

Meadow: And?

Juniper looked at her and sighed, almost rolling her eyes, or maybe the game couldn’t properly render her doing it.

Juniper: Open it. Open the menu.

Willow did and was transported to a small instance that included a whole barber shop, it was as if she’d stepped inside. Next to her, the others all appeared, one by one. Willow still had no idea what to do here, so she interacted with a guy behind a counter.

Barber:

Do you want a fresh haircut or would you like to learn the barber skill?

A few options appeared under the text:

- Change appearance

- Become an apprentice barber

- Learn about changing your appearance

- Learn about the barber skill

They could learn how to change other people’s appearance? What? How was this… When had this been added?

Sage: So? We can learn this barber skill, but what does that have to do with specifically a beard?

Juniper: Not saying more now. Just… figure that out for yourself.

Willow looked away from the words in front of her, at Juniper instead. Juniper obviously knew something and wasn’t telling them.

Willow clicked on the ‘Change appearance’ option, and was instantly given a whole range of options, from her hair to her facial hair, to her eyes, to all sorts of things. The only things she didn’t seem to be able to change were her race and her class. On impulse, she clicked on the ‘facial hair’ option. Maybe?

***

Willow couldn’t stop laughing, she held her arms around her waist as she sat in the grass behind the guild house. The barber skill wasn’t just usable on other players, they could use it on pets too and Violet had given Mira a bright red beard and had painted some of the scales on top of her head a bright pink. It was… special.

Meadow: Violet…

Though Mira didn’t seem to be able to understand what was going on, just loving the attention she got as she ran after Violet, but it still wasn’t the best idea. And after Violet had been through painting Mira, she’d gone on to try and find a new target for her brand new skill.

They were spending a few more hours at the guild house. The ‘beard of a woman’ side-quest hadn’t been that complicated in the end. Once they’d found out where to get it, it turned out much simpler than they expected. They simply had to complete the intro quests for the barber skill and the final one of those had been a quest to help a lady grow a beard and then to shave it off again. It’d been simple enough.

Though, it turned out that if they levelled their skills on NPCs the NPCs would sometimes get angry if the change didn’t work out as they’d asked for or if the skill failed and they accidentally nicked or otherwise hurt their customers, and then they’d not pay as much for the haircut. That had been a bummer, though Willow wasn’t sure that the same happened if they tried it out on other players… Apart from Violet, the others had simply completed the quests and then moved on. And everyone had been smart enough to avoid getting close to Violet while she’d been on her hunt.

Finally, Violet sat down next to Willow, grinning. She was currently sporting a dark purple hairdo and had a very posh moustache in the same shade, it even curled at the ends.

Violet: What do you think?

Meadow: I like the colour, not so sure on the style.

Violet: No?

Meadow: No. I think I like you better with your hair loose.

Violet had given herself a strange set of twin ponytails, almost on top of her head, and they were constantly moving, almost like floppy dog ears.

Violet thought for a moment and then she had her hair bound back into a long braid, going all the way down her back.

Violet: I prefer this, makes life a lot easier, no hair to get in the way when I kill stuff. Or try to craft things.

Well, or that, that looked good too.

Then a line of text appeared in front of Willow.

*You have a message from BASE, check your messages in the BASE platform to read it.*

Hmm? That was curious. Next to her, Violet also frowned a little.

Meadow: BASE message?

Violet nodded.

Willow pulled up her BASE overlay, since she couldn’t access most of her account from inside a game, but this way she could see some notifications when she needed them, but it was only the bare minimum.

New Message: BASE - You are invited to test the new BASE update. - Just now

Oh, wow. Really? She thought it would have taken a couple more weeks for their names to get to the top of the list.

Meadow: I got an invite to the update test.

Violet: Cool.

Dawn: I got an invite too, just checked.

He stepped behind them and then sat down, putting his head on Willow’s shoulder.

Dawn: So, I guess that we’re going to update soon, then?

Meadow: I probably will. Soleil, Violet and me are going to get together to update, keep it fun.

Dawn: Yeah. It’s going to be a long update, and, on top of that, the game too…

Violet: Yep. That’s going to last a while. A looong while. We’ll have to be allll without you that whole time.

Dawn: Pff. It’s not like you guys don’t sleep and we’re not all on at different times most of the time anyway…

Dawn: It’s nothing that dramatic. I was just talking about it going to be pretty heavy on the downloading side of things. Not everyone has super fast connections.

Willow could almost feel his eyes on her, she did have really fast internet.

Mira came strolling over to them, letting herself fall onto the ground in front of them. The beard and extra colours were already gone, she was back to being a regular dragon again and while the dress-up looked fun, it wasn’t really a look for Mira. Willow raised an eyebrow towards Violet.

Violet: I wasn’t going to do anything permanent. She looks good enough like this.

Meadow: I agree.

Dawn: Okay, since this will take a while for me to download and all, I’m going off. I’ll see you again when everything goes back online.

Meadow: See you later.

Violet: Later!

Then, with a quick blink, Dawn was gone and they were the only ones here again. Soleil had already left pretty soon after they’d found the new item for the quest and the others had all left not too long after, some of them having to get back to work or just having to do other stuff.

Violet: If I log off, I’ll be at yours in half an hour or so. Deal?

Meadow: Sounds good. I’ll let Soleil know.

Violet: See you soon.

Meadow: Don’t forget that we’re probably offline for a while.

Violet grinned at her.

Violet: I know. Later.

And she was gone too, leaving Willow behind with Mira.

Willow stood up, Mira immediately getting up too. She pet Mira as she walked over to the guild house, going inside.

“I’m sorry, girl. I’m going offline too. But I promise that I’ll be back soon and maybe we can even hang out more if everything goes well.” She gave Mira scratches and then pulled up the menu in front of her. If everything went as she expected, she could maybe move Mira with them to the new game too.

*You are now logged out of Helheim Fallen Online.*

***

Willow opened the door, letting Violet inside. Violet was carrying a huge box and Willow shook her head as she stepped to the side.

“What is that?” She closed the door behind Violet and followed her to the kitchen table.

“You don’t recognise it?” Violet grinned at her, then she opened the box and revealed the old computer that Willow had given her. “I know that you haven’t replaced it yet and this way we can at least watch something or whatever on it while we’re offline.” She sat down on one of the chairs, grinning.

Willow sighed, smiling too. Violet and her ideas… “Fine. Though, I did have something else to play stuff on. But this is fun too.” She also sat down. “Soleil is going to pick us up soon. Since the new game interacts with the world around us, we thought it would probably be more fun to try it out in a place with a little more… space around us.”

Violet nodded. “Makes sense. And she probably has an even faster connection than you do here, right?” She flashed Willow a smile and Willow grinned back.

“I was thinking that too. Plus, I’ve not been to her place yet, so it’s probably pretty cool to see.” She knew that Soleil lived in one of the fancier neighbourhoods, but that was about all she knew. The houses were bigger there, but she didn’t really know what to expect, how big ‘big’ really was.

The bell rang again and Willow jumped up, opening the door. Soleil was standing there, smiling at her. “Are you ready to have your mind updated?”

Willow let out a laugh. “I don’t think there are many things to ‘update’ about my brain. But I think I’m ready to have the BASE unit updated.”

Soleil grinned at her, giving her a quick hug. “I’m with you on that.” When she spotted Violet at the table, with the box, she raised an eyebrow. “And that is…?”

“Computer.” Violet stood up, coming over. “I thought we could use some entertainment.”

Soleil shook her head a little, still smiling. “Oh, well, I guess we could use that too…”

“Why?” Violet looked at Soleil.

“Nothing… Nothing much. Just that I’ve got some plans of my own.” She winked. “Let’s get that in the car. And then we can get moving. I’m hungry and I think we should probably order something, like pizza.”

Willow nodded, getting excited. “I’m always up for pizza. So I’m game.” She grabbed her jacket and the bag near the door with her own things.

She was going to spend the next hours with her friends and then they were going to play a new game together too… That definitely sounded like something she would enjoy.

Friends? Check.

Games? Check.

Pizza? Check.

Great time in the making? Check.

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A note from EEngberts

Would you like to have a barber skill in the games you play? Would you train it to make excessive hairstyles to make people pay you for them?


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EEngberts

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