44 Black Rose“s Defea
After the Black Rose members split, Sed and Sphinx searched the area for any more flags.
"Someone is coming," Sphinx warned after hearing footsteps.
As the two switched to battle position and waited for the enemy to appear, Luna rolled out of the bushes and landed on her butt. She flicked the leaves off her hair and shoulders.
"Luna?" Sed was surprised.
"Woah! Sed and Sphinx!" Luna exclaimed. She shared the same amount of shock the two Black Rose members felt.
Sed knew they were enemies for this round, but he couldn't bring himself to attack her. Luna made no move to attack either.
"Any luck with your guild?" he simply asked and put away his sword.
Luna got up. "Yeah. We got a flag. Did you guys get one?"
He breathed a heavy sigh after hearing her words. "Garth is in critical condition and we still haven't acquired a flag yet."
"That's terrible! Should I call the others to help out? There might still be unclaimed flags around."
"We're running out of hope. Most flags have already been claimed."
"Don't give up just yet! I'm going to get the others to help out!" Luna ran off.
Sphinx turned to the second-in-command. "It pays to have allies, huh?"
Sed clenched his fist. "Let's win this for Garth."
As they continued their search for an unclaimed flag, the rest of the Noctis Noir members joined them. Luna and Sed filled them in on what happened.
"Where's Garth?" Astrid asked.
"Jasmine and Yaya are taking care of him," Sed replied.
"Good." As much as she wanted to see him and see how bad his injuries were, she knew that helping them find a flag was the current priority. "The girls and I will search north from here. If we manage to find an unclaimed flag, Lyria will teleport you to the location."
"Thank you. Black Rose owes you ladies a lot."
The group split and searched the grounds for flags. After ten minutes of searching, they still haven't seen any.
"Not a single unclaimed flag left, huh?" Lyria said.
Astrid climbed on top of a boulder to scan the area for flags. "The competition is pretty fierce. Our chances of finding one is slim."
"There's one there!" Luna shouted.
Anna and Amelie both ran for the unclaimed flag, but they were quickly shot down by a sniper. In just a split second, another guild claimed the flag.
The loud sound of trumpets echoed throughout the field. It signified the end of the challenge. All hope of winning the round was lost for Black Rose.
"Black Rose... lost?" Jasmine couldn't believe it. She dropped to her knees with tears in her eyes. "No way..."
Yaya hugged her guildmate to comfort her. The usual cheerful smile on the priestess' face was gone.
Although Noctis Noir emerged victorious in the challenge, the girls couldn't help but feel the crushing weight of defeat.
It was near midnight in the artificial world of Aries. While some guilds preferred to get a good night's sleep, others such as the Knight's Alliance preferred to spend their time training in the middle of the woods. They performed their usual training regimen, designed by the guildmaster Tank himself.
As the members jogged around in a circle, a pair of eyes observed them from a nearby tree. Astrid had only the shadows and some leaves to shroud herself at her current position.
I have to move higher.
When Astrid climbed onto the large branch above her, she found herself face-to-face with the Black Rose assassin, Sphinx. He appeared to be scribbling some notes in his small notebook.
An amused smile formed on Sphinx's face. "A surprise seeing you here, Miss Guildmaster. Are you here to take notes on their training methods? Or are you here because you suspect the Knights Alliance too?"
"Something bothers me and I intend to get some answers," Astrid replied. She couldn't help but feel some suspicion.
"I'm here for Garth's sake. But what does this have to do with you and Noctis Noir, Miss Guildmaster? You were never directly assaulted by the hackers."
"That might be true, but whoever my guildmates associate with is also my business. They could get involved with the wrong people and be put in danger. I intend to prevent that."
"You mean like Luna? I see what you mean. It's tough dealing with a maiden in love, huh?"
Astrid stayed quiet for a moment. "Tank doesn't seem like the type who'd do this. Even I don't want to believe it, but I have to make sure."
"I have some information for you too regarding a certain ex-member of your guild."
Astrid's eyes widened. "You don't mean..."
"I'm talking about Christina. I was tracking down a certain player we suspected of hacking when she showed up to receive a mysterious grey box from that player. It's quite possible that those were codes. She might be plotting something, Astrid."
"She probably is." She sighed.
"Better keep your guard up. Christina tends to be vengeful."
"You speak as if you know her well."
"She's my sister."
Astrid blinked twice. "Oh. Well, this is awkward."
Sphinx laughed. "Don't worry about it. I've never liked her really. Neither do I like the rest of my family."
"That sounds tough."
"It was. I grew up in a chaotic family. Eventually, I saved enough money and left. Wen was a friend of mine at school. He let me live with him for a while until we eventually moved to Aries to start the guild, Black Rose."
"So that's why Garth trusts you a lot."
"Yeah. I've known him and Wen for a long time, even before artificial world development started. In a way, I'm the only one left from his life in the real world."
She remained silent for a moment. "What happened to their parents?"
"They went to live in a different artificial world. They haven't heard about Wen's disappearance yet. I think that's the main reason why Garth avoids visiting them. He can't bear to tell them that his brother went missing." Sphinx sighed. "The more we tried to look for Wen, the more wrapped up we got in this hacker problem. They might have targeted Black Rose on purpose because they caught on to our activities. Astrid, if you keep getting involved in this, you'll put yourself in danger."
"If Christina really is allying with them, then I think I already am in danger."
He smirked. "In that case, let's watch each other's backs then."
"Can you take me to see Garth?"
"Sure thing. He'll be glad to see you."