54 An Empty Room
Astrid and the Black Rose members immediately set their escape plan in motion. There was a huge risk in attempting to create illegal portals, but remaining in Aries longer was an even bigger risk. Everyone was sure that whoever was behind all this knew there were players taking refuge in their guild instance fields. It wouldn't be long before they would do something to harm the remaining players.
Pio knocked on the door to the guest room where Astrid was staying temporarily to work on the portals. He slowly twisted the knob and stepped inside the room. Astrid didn't notice him at all. She was too caught up working on a code for a portal.
"Astrid, I have a request... If you don't mind," he said upon entering. "Sorry to disturb you."
"What is it, Pio?" Astrid stretched and faced him.
"It's about Yaya. Is there any way you can trace her location?"
"It's possible if she sends a reply to your private message."
Pio sighed. "I see. I guess there's no way of knowing then. She'd never reply to my mail."
Astrid was beginning to get curious. "Pio, what happened to Yaya?"
"I don't know. She just suddenly said goodbye and left. She never gave any hints or warnings. I tried to bring her with us to Lamont, but she flicked sleeping powder on me."
Astrid was beginning to suspect that Lyngvi and Yaya were on the same side. "Have you searched her room?"
Pio shook his head. "Not yet."
"There might be a clue there."
"Alright. I'll ask the others to help me search her room. Good luck with the portals." Pio gave a smile before leaving the room.
Astrid went back to work. She wanted to finish the portals as soon as possible. She couldn't send any mail to the Noctis Noir girls to explain to them about her sudden disappearance. They were probably very worried about her.
"This looks like a job for Detective Chris of Noctis Noir!" Amelie announced with a fancy hair flip. She suddenly had a fake mustache and a deer hunter hat. "The case of the missing Astrid. With my skills, it will be solved in no time, my dear assistant and biographer Dr. Luna!" She smoked a pipe and started choking from the smoke.
"Ladies, this is serious. What if Astrid was kidnapped?" Lyria was worried sick.
"Maybe the hackers realized she was tinkering with codes and abducted her!" Luna was in panic.
Amelie placed her pointer fingers over both their lips. "We've been through this before. Astrid is probably inside a secret room we overlooked! We must hurry and find the lever to get to her secret lab!"
"Wouldn't she be back by now for dinner?" Anna was a little doubtful about Amelie's theory.
"She probably lost track of time! We need to lure her out with beef bowls. To the kitchen!" Amelie marched to the stove to cook some beef bowls.
Lyria looked out the window. "I hope Astrid is alright... wherever she is right now."
Jasmine, Sed, and Pio stood in front of Yaya's room. They carefully inserted the key and unlocked the door. Nothing seemed out of place upon first glance. The room was neatly kept, except for the empty bottles of spiced wine on the floor.
"Woah!" Jasmine exclaimed.
"Did you find something, Jas?" Pio turned his head.
"A discount coupon."
Sed planted his palm on his face. "Can you save your reactions for the actual useful clues?"
"I can't help it, ok!? I love discounts."
"We're pretty sure you do, Jas," said Pio.
"Shut up, Pio!"
Sed sighed. "Let's keep searching."
The three opened up every cabinet and drawer in the room. Most of them were empty except for a few that contained Yaya's favorite spiced wine.
"Yaya took all her things with her," Sed concluded.
Pio closed the drawer he just opened. "I can't believe we didn't notice anything."
"Great. Now we have two missing people in the guild." Jasmine folded her arms and sighed.
Astrid suddenly appeared at the doorway. "Any luck?"
Sed shook his head. "Sadly, no. How are the portals going?"
"There is progress, but I ran into a problem. Hopefully I'll find a hint somewhere."
"Take your time, Astrid. But we'd also appreciate you hurrying up before we get killed by the evil mastermind behind this whole thing."
"Thanks. I wanted to ask Jas something."
Jasmine was surprised. "Me?"
Astrid nodded. "Did you ever give Yaya one of your customized handkerchiefs?"
"I did. She even lost it once, so I gave her a replacement."
"Tank and Luna encountered a hacker in the forest who dropped one of your handkerchiefs."
"So you're suspecting that it was Yaya?"
"No way! Yaya would never do something like that! We've known her for so long. She's not like that." Pio defended his mentor. "She was probably framed or blackmailed by someone."
Suddenly, a voice came from behind Astrid. "Even if you've known someone for a long time, you still can't know a person completely. Sometimes people change so suddenly that you wonder whether you really knew them at all."
"Like Wen?" Jasmine said.
Garth stepped inside the room. "That's right. Just like my brother."
Pio punched the wall out of frustration. "So we didn't get to know Yaya as well as we thought?"
Nobody answered him. The room fell silent for a moment.
He turned to face the window. "I'm going to find Yaya and ask her myself."
Sed placed a hand on Pio's shoulder. "Woah, Pio. Don't go running off by yourself to find Yaya. We'll find her together, ok? It's too dangerous to be alone out there right now."
"We don't want to believe that Yaya is responsible for this either." Jasmine followed and placed a hand on Pio's other shoulder.
Pio was relieved that he had such good friends. "Thanks guys."
Three days passed and there was still no clue about where Astrid had gone. The girls gave up hope of finding her. After all, they were trapped in the guild headquarters and had no other way out.
Suddenly, a bright light appeared in the middle of the Noctis Noir guild territory. Everyone was startled. "Woah! What is that!?"
The girls prepared themselves to battle. The mysterious light gradually morphed into a portal.
"Hey." Astrid came out of the portal and waved casually.
The girls couldn't believe it. After a few days of being missing, Astrid just suddenly waltzed back into the Noctis Noir headquarters as if nothing happened.
Luna crushed her with a hug. "Astrid! Where have you been!? We were worried sick, woman!"
Astrid struggled to breathe. "Sorry. I was experimenting on warp tickets and portals. I ended up at the Black Rose Headquarters."
"Thank goodness. You're alright!" Lyria was relieved.
"Why didn't you mail us?" Luna demanded an explanation.
Astrid offered her one, "The mailing system could be monitored. It would be bad if they find out what we're up to. I didn't think I could send a proper mail to let you know I was in Black Rose's instance field."
"Does this mean we can escape?" Amelie asked.
"We might be able to if this succeeds," replied Astrid.
The girls were happy to hear some good news. There was hope of escaping Aries.
"Been a while, huh?" Sphinx poked his head through the portal. He calmly entered the guild headquarters like it was his own home.
"Sphinx! This is amazing. So we can finally travel to different guild headquarters?" Lyria was delighted with the idea.
"Garth's plan is to connect all guilds to the Black Rose headquarters so we can gather everyone to discuss our best methods of escape," Astrid replied. "The portals should be stable... I hope."
"We'll be borrowing Astrid for a while, ok?" Sphinx winked.
"Is there any way we can help?" asked Lyria.
"Contact every friend you know from a different guild, but don't tell them what is happening."