Garth waited for Astrid at their usual rendezvous spot at night, which was an isolated area near Everest Woods. Fighting other players was allowed in that area, but it was rare for even one person to show up, so no one ever bothered going all the way there just to find a duel partner. He arrived early because of his plans to meet Sphinx. He felt a bit uneasy as he tried to guess the reason why Sphinx suddenly asked to meet him. It was probably bad news.
"Boss." Sphinx came out of the shadows and greeted the mage.
"It seems that someone is selling codes for hacking in the black market. I managed to hunt down one of his customers in a PvP area and acquired a sample. I thought you might want to have a look."
"Good job, Sphinx. You'd better inform the moderators about this before they mistaken you as a hacker."
"Hey, don't worry. I've caught hackers for them several times. They're not going to suspect me." Sphinx removed the code from his inventory. It was in the form of a red cube.
"I don't do code, so it's useless for me to have a look at its body."
"It's fine. There's just something I want you to see. You know how some programmers sign their work and place notes in them? This one happens to have a signature."
Garth's eyes widened. "It can't be."
Sphinx nodded. "See for yourself." He activated the cube and it projected its contents onto a holographic screen. He scrolled down to the bottom of the code and pointed at the name.
Garth was in disbelief. "We're still not sure if they're the same person."
"That's true, but as of now, this is the only lead we have."
"Thank you for relaying this information, Sphinx. For now, let's focus on the immediate threat."
"I agree. We wouldn't want any chaos or scandals appearing during the world guild war, right?"
"Yes. Hopefully we can resolve this before the event starts."
"Hey boss, do you hear something?"
Garth concentrated on listening. There was indeed a rustling sound. "A monster, perhaps?"
"We'd better check, just in case. I'll be right back." Sphinx disappeared into the shadows.
Garth readied his staff in preparation. It took a few minutes before Sphinx reappeared carrying a female assassin like a sack of potatoes.
"I found this girl nearby, boss. Do you think she's a spy? Maybe we should interrogate her," Sphinx said.
Garth started sweating. "Put her down, Sphinx. She's..."
"Garth?" Astrid turned her head. "You know him?"
Sphinx was shocked. "Boss, you know her?" Later, he realized that she was the same girl Garth was spying on several days ago.
"Put my student down, Sphinx." Garth looked a little embarrassed. He hid his mouth under his coat.
"Student? You took in a student?" Sphinx was even more shocked. "You didn't even take in anyone from the guild when they asked and now you suddenly have this girl who's not even in your guild! Why did you pick her?"
"I have my reasons. Now, please put Astrid down already."
Sphinx obeyed. "Wait." He smirked. "Oh, I think I get it now. You actually..." Suddenly, he was hit by a fireball and flew backwards.
"Don't forget, we're in a PvP area."
"That hurt, you know?" Despite getting attacked, he still kept his smirk on. "Well, I won't get in the way. I'll be leaving now. Wait till Sed and the others hear about this..." He immediately disappeared before the next fireball reached him.
"Who was that?" Astrid asked.
He turned around to face her. "One of my guildmates. Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. He just suddenly stunned me and carried me off."
"Sorry about that."
"It's fine." But in reality, Astrid was a bit pissed off about being ambushed. She wanted to punch Sphinx in the face.
He threw her a double exp apple. "Let's go."
Garth led her to an area where stronger slimes spawned. He did the same routine of luring monsters and casting Blizzard. He was doing fine for an hour until he began feeling dizzy.
Suddenly, Garth collapsed. Astrid quickly ran over to help him. She saw that his health bar was still full. He probably collapsed from exhaustion.
"Garth!" She bent down.
"Sorry. I've been doing a lot of work lately. I didn't notice how tired I actually am."
"It's alright. You should get some rest." As Astrid helped him up, she noticed that he was warm. She placed a hand on his forehead. "You're burning."
"Heh. Looks like I caught a fever. Sorry, Astrid. We'll have to end early tonight."
"We have to get you to a bed as soon as possible. We still have a stock of medicine in our guild base. You can rest there in the meantime."
"Sorry for the trouble."
Astrid teleported both of them to the Noctis Noir Headquarters. When she entered the house while supporting Garth, the girls were surprised to find an unexpected visitor.
"What happened?" Lyria placed her cup of tea down and stood up.
"We need fever medicine, Lyria," said Astrid. "Garth suddenly collapsed while he was helping me."
"I'm on it." Lyria hurried to the cupboard where they kept their potions and medicines.
"A sick person? I shall make chicken soup!" Amelie rushed to the kitchen. She just wanted a reason to cook something.
"I'll... uhh..." Luna tried to think of something she could do.
Astrid looked at her. "Luna, please contact the Black Rose guild and inform them of Garth's condition."
"Yeah! That's what I'll do!"
Astrid brought him to an unclaimed bed in the sleeping quarters.
"Try and get some sleep. I'll get you a glass of water." Astrid stopped. "You might want to take your coat off so you can sleep comfortably."
Garth attempted to untie the knot in front of his neck, but was too groggy to do it properly and kept failing. Astrid stood in front of him and helped him undo the knot. He suddenly held her hands, making her heart skip a beat. "Don't worry about me."
She nodded and left the room to get him some water.
"Sed and Pio are coming over to pick him up," Luna said as soon as Astrid stepped into the living room.
"I present to you, Chef Chrosse's special chicken soup!" Amelie waltzed out of the kitchen and placed a bowl of soup on Astrid's hands. "Please feed it to him."
"Oh, thanks. That was fast," Astrid said.
"Hey, I want some soup too!" Luna's mouth watered as she smelled the chicken soup.
Amelie did a hair flip. "There's more in the kitchen."
"Oh yeah!" Luna cheered and ran to the kitchen. "Thanks, Amelie!"
"It's Chris! You're doing this on purpose, aren't you!?"
"Here's the medicine." Lyria gave the pills to Astrid. She winked. "Make sure he swallows all of it."
"Thanks, Lyria." Astrid brought the pills and soup inside the bedroom and placed them on the side table. Garth was fast asleep. His coat was hung at the end of the bed. "Garth? Are you still awake?"
No response. She decided to just leave him alone.
"Wen..." She heard him mutter.
"Wen?" she repeated and examined his face.
"Don't do it... Wen..." His face looked troubled while his eyes stayed shut.
Who is Wen? Astrid thought. She couldn't help her curiosity.
Suddenly, she heard Sed and Pio's voices from outside the room. They just entered through the front door. She went out of the bedroom to meet them.
"Astrid! How is he?" Pio asked.
Sed shook his head. "I told him not to push himself."
"He's sleeping right now," Astrid replied.
"Should we transport him now? We might wake him though," Pio asked Sed.
"Let him sleep for a bit to regain some energy. Then, we'll transport him."
"Would you like some soup?" Amelie appeared with two bowls of soup.
Sed stared at Amelie for a moment. He wasn't very fond of her because of how Jasmine was head over heels for her. He didn't want to admit it, but he was jealous. He had his eyes on Jasmine for a long time and now this 'Chris' person suddenly snatched her attention away.
Almost immediately, the smell of chicken soup distracted him from his dislike of Amelie. He was very much fond of chicken dishes.
"Hey, that smells good, Chris." Sed accepted a bowl and sat on the living room couch.
Pio sighed. "We're not here to eat, Sed."
"You should try this, Pio. It tastes amazing!"
Amelie gave a bowl to Pio. "Alright, I will. Thank you, Chris." Pio gave in and received the bowl. She gave it a try. "You're right. It does taste amazing."
Astrid sat with them in the living room. As Pio and Lyria started a conversation about the world guild war, Astrid's mind was on the mystery of who Wen was. Sed, who just finished his bowl of soup, noticed this and decided to ask, "You look a little serious, Astrid. Is something bothering you?"
"It's nothing big. I'm just curious about something Garth muttered," Astrid replied.
"What'd he say?" Sed asked as he received a second bowl from Chris.
"He mentioned a name: Wen."
"Ah." Sed nodded and took a sip of his second bowl of soup. "He was the first guildmaster and founder of Black Rose. Garth has been looking for him ever since he ran off and disappeared. During the time he was guildmaster, Garth was appointed as his second-in-command. The responsibility of being the guildmaster was suddenly dumped onto Garth right after Wen left."
Astrid was surprised. "Garth is the guildmaster of Black Rose?"
Sed shook his head in disbelief. "You've been spending all that time with him and you didn't know?"
"He never mentioned it. I never asked either."
He laughed. "I don't blame you though. Garth doesn't reveal much. We even only found out today that the reason he's been out late at night was to help you level up. Moreover, that was all thanks to Sphinx. If you hadn't walked into them together, we wouldn't have found out at all."
"I didn't think he was keeping it a secret."
"He keeps a lot of secrets, which is frustrating at times, but we know he's always thinking of the guild first and that there are good reasons for keeping secrets. He's someone we trust."
"That's good. The guildmaster should be someone the members trust, right?"
"Yeah." Sed drank more soup. "I swear. You're all so lucky to have a good chef in the guild."
"A lot of us love cooking, but A—"
"Chris! Chris loves cooking the most!" Amelie shouted just in time. She handed a bowl to Astrid. "Drink up and don't collapse like Garth!"
Sed laughed. "Yeah, drink up, Astrid. We don't need another sick guildmaster, especially with the world guild war coming up. Your guild is participating right?"
"Yes. Our chances of winning are slim, but at least there are prizes for participants," Lyria said.
Pio finished her soup and placed the empty bowl on the table. "It's a good way of letting the world know about your guild's existence."
Sed was pleased to hear her answer. "I guess we'll see you at the event then."
"I'll go check up on Garth." Pio stood up and went inside the bedroom. After a moment, she went out and nodded to Sed. "We can transport him now. He seems to have recovered some energy."
"Can he walk? Or should I just carry him?"
"Just carry him. He still looks dizzy."
Sed went inside the room and came out holding Garth on his shoulder. "Thanks for taking care of him."
"No problem," Astrid said.
"Have a safe trip back!" Luna waved.
"Take some medicine with you." Lyria gave a few pills to Pio.
Sed turned around. "Hey Astrid."
"Yeah?" Astrid looked at him.
"Garth likes strawberry cake."
"Why are you telling me this?"
Sed just winked in reply before turning to leave.
When Astrid went back inside the room to take the bowl of soup that was meant for Garth, she found a small note on the bedside table with her name on it. She carefully opened it.
We'll train at Ruins of Latham the day after tomorrow. Meet me at the town square. Same time as usual.
She smiled. Even while sick in bed, he was still thinking about training. She folded back the paper again and kept it in her pocket.
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