22 A Warning
Right after the first preliminaries officially ended, the celebration began at Lamont. There were tables all over the town square. Round lights and banners decorated the whole area, making the place appear like a fancy outdoor restaurant. Soon, NPC waiters carried food and served them on the tables. Everyone was invited to the feast, drawing a large crowd. The event area even extended to the outskirts of town to accommodate the number of guests.
"Let's sit on this table," Luna pointed at the table right beside her. It was enough to fit ten people.
"I never thought that the town could look this beautiful at night!" said Lyria as she took in the scenery.
Astrid was the first to take a piece of barbecued meat from one of the plates on their table. "I never thought that the food in this world could look this delicious at night."
"Congratulations, guys. Let's celebrate together." Jasmine approached them. Behind her was Sed, Yaya, Pio, and Garth.
"Can we sit with you?" Pio asked.
"Aren't you celebrating with your other guild members?" Amelie asked.
"They ended up dispersed in the crowd," said Sed with a sigh.
"We still have seats on this table. Come join us," Lyria offered.
The Black Rose members thanked them and took their seats. Sed was about to take a seat beside Amelie, but Jasmine overtook him and gave a glare. Pio and Yaya sat across Luna and Lyria, while Garth walked to the other side of the table to sit beside Astrid.
Two waiters walked by their table to serve glasses of spiced wine. They all began to eat and drink while chatting about the preliminaries.
"Hey, there's a stain on your cheek, Chris," Jasmine said.
"There is?" Amelie turned to look at her.
"Here. Use my handkerchief," Jasmine offered. She pulled out a pink handkerchief and gave it to Amelie.
"Thank you, Jasmine! I will clean this up and return it to you."
Jasmine laughed. "No, you don't have to. I still have a lot of those."
Luna's eyes widened. She rechecked the handkerchief dropped by the hacker. It was a perfect match. She stayed silent and slipped the handkerchief back into her inventory.
Does Jasmine have ties to the hacker? Luna thought.
"That's a cute handkerchief, Jasmine. Where'd you get it?" Luna decided to try getting some information.
"Thanks. It's a custom made item. I crafted it," Jasmine was flattered by her question.
Luna's gaze shifted to Tank, who was with Lyngvi and his other guild members. She excused herself and walked over to him.
"Hey there, Luna. Care to join us?" Tank raised his glass of wine when he noticed her.
"I need to talk to you for a bit."
Tank's guildmates began nudging him with smirks on their faces.
He noticed her serious face. "I understand. Let's go." He stood up and followed her to a desolate area. "What do you need to talk about?"
"This handkerchief..." Luna pulled out the handkerchief the hacker dropped. "It's apparently a custom made item. The one who made it is Jasmine of Black Rose."
Tank's eyes widened. "Black Rose?"
"Jasmine gave an exact replica of it to our guildmate just now."
"Where is she right now?"
"Probably still sitting with Astrid and the others. Should we confront her?"
He shook his head. "It might be unwise to confront her. She will start becoming more careful about her actions if we do that. For now, we observe her."
"Thanks for the help, Luna." He gave her a pat on the head before turning to leave.
Luna froze in place, surprised from the sudden action. She let out a squeal before rejoining the others, who were busy trying to stop Sed and Jasmine from arguing.
Pio sighed. "Don't worry about them. They're always like this."
Yaya giggled. "Ahh. So lively." She leaned forward towards Lyria and Astrid, giving them both a seductive wink. "So, would you two like to be my girlfriends?"
"Yaya! Stop fliriting!"
"Jas is already my girlfriend number 1. You can be numbers 20 and 21!"
"Oh gosh. Are you drunk?" Pio stared in horror at the four empty wine bottles beside Yaya.
Lyria couldn't hold her laughter back any longer. She burst into a laughing fit.
"Astrid." In the midst of the escalating chaos, Garth whispered and suddenly stood up. "Come with me."
"Where are you going, Garth?" Sed asked.
"Looking for strawberry cake."
"Oh, ok." Sed went back to arguing with Jasmine with no questions asked.
Astrid stood up and followed him. Soon, they reached an empty alley in an isolated neighborhood.
"Umm... Garth? I don't think there's any cake here," Astrid said as she looked at her surroundings.
He smiled. "We're going to the Black Rose Headquarters. I have something important to discuss with you."
She nodded silently.
He teleported them both to the instance field where their guild was located. Their headquarters was a large tree house on an island with a patch of land for farming right beside it. They both stood on the white sandy beach lit by small torches on the ground. In front of them was a wooden path that led to the tree house.
"Wow. It's huge," said Astrid.
"If you keep upgrading, your guild headquarters can become around that size." Garth began walking forward.
Astrid followed him. "Then again, we're only four members, so we don't really need it to be that large."
"Your guild headquarters has a very homey atmosphere."
They entered through the front door and walked up the stairs leading to the highest room. Inside the room was a messy desk and a row of bookshelves. There were also two sofas and a coffee table. Garth closed the door behind him.
"This is the guildmaster's office. Please have a seat." Garth sat on one of the sofas.
Astrid sat on the other sofa across him. "Why did you bring me here?"
"Astrid. I feel like I can trust you." He paused. "I need your help."
"Have you heard of the issue on hackers?"
"I see them listed in Aries Unlimited."
"A lot of names, right?" He stood up and walked over to a framed photograph of him and the first guildmaster, Wen. "Before I became guildmaster, my brother was the guildmaster. However, he suddenly left the guild in the middle of the night without telling us anything. He left everyone in the dark, including me."
He showed the photo to Astrid. "Right around the time he disappeared, there were rumors that he was involved with hacking, the kind that alters the laws of this world. Since I became guildmaster, I never stopped searching for him and the truth behind those rumors. However, as I continued my search, I found more disturbing news."
He took out a red cube from his inventory and showed it to her. "Sphinx found this cube from a hacker trying to sell copies of it. It had Wen's signature in it. I don't want to believe that he's behind this."
"What do you want me to do?" Astrid asked.
"I need you to help me keep an eye out for anything suspicious or any information related to Wen." He paused. "More importantly, the bigger issue here is finding out who's the hacker in my own guild."
Her eyes widened. "There's a hacker within Black Rose?"
"They are rumors, but the possibility is high. Sphinx is already helping me investigate, but he may not be enough. We might need an outsider's perspective for this. Will you help me, Astrid?"
She nodded. "I'll do what I can."
He smiled. "Thank you. And one more thing..." His face turned serious. "Be vigilant during the team battles. Sphinx had the code analyzed and it seems to alter a player's power output in some way. There may be some players who will use that code."
He turned around. "I fear that they're planning something big for the final round of this competition."