68 M.K.“s House
The team worked tirelessly for three days, cramming information on artificial world development through books and instructional videos. Astrid's knowledge could only get them through the basics. If they wanted to build something more complicated, they needed more references. They all pooled in their resources to further their learning progress.
They met regularly at Garth's apartment and sometimes at Oodle Noodles to study as a group and decide on what codes to build for their journey back into Aries.
"The first thing we need is a way back in and out. This shouldn't be too hard after we made something similar. The next thing we need is the ability to use all the skills in-game and enhance our stats. We'd also need entirely new skills," said Astrid.
"That part might take a while with our current skills," Garth said while pondering on the code.
"Let's learn all we can today and see where our abilities can take us," Tank suggested.
The group spent about four hours building a prototype code for the skill and stat enhancement.
Lyria did some armor design sketches on her notebook. Once she was done, she stopped and stared at the drawing. She remembered their guild seamstress, Anna, who used to create pretty clothes for them. "I wonder if Anna would like my designs."
"I miss Anna and Amelie," said Luna.
"Me too. I hope Anna survived at least."
Frisk stretched his arms. "Man. I haven't worked this hard since that time I badly wanted a promotion."
"Which you ended up not getting," said Tank.
"Let's call it a day. I think we're all exhausted." Tank stood up. "I'll see you guys tomorrow." He walked out the door. Frisk followed behind him.
"I have a client to meet in an hour. See you later!" Epsilon also left.
The rest left one by one until it was only Astrid and Garth left in the room. Garth appeared to be thinking hard while sitting down.
"What's wrong, Garth?" Astrid couldn't help but ask.
"We need more information about Aries. Something like a blueprint." Garth handed her a piece of paper.
"What's this?" Astrid examined the paper.
"M.K.'s house address."
Astrid was shocked. "How were you able to get his address?"
"I was looking at some forums where users discussed about his whereabouts. One person posted photos of a house believed to be where M.K. lives. It might be the right one." Garth showed her the photos through his phone. "The name on the plate says M.K. And look at these photos behind the window. Don't they look familiar?"
Astrid stared at the photos. They were scenery photographs of familiar places. "Lamont. Mir. The stone amphitheatre..."
"They are all places inside Aries. There is a chance that this address really is M.K.'s house." Garth glanced at the clock. "We still have time before dark. Do you want to pay a visit?"
The house was located in the same city, somewhere near the border to the neighboring town. It only took them around ten minutes to get there by bus. The one-storey structure was made out of wood painted in blue and white. It was surrounded by tall grass and a short fence. Its untidy exterior indicated that the lawn hasn't been touched for months.
Garth walked up to the door and rang the doorbell. They waited for a while before ringing it again. No answer. There was probably no one around.
"Should we go back?" Astrid asked.
Garth walked around the house to peek inside. There was no sign of anyone. After confirming the location of the scenery photos, Garth opened the window and let himself in.
"Garth! What are you doing?" Astrid was shocked.
"Looking around," he replied calmly.
"This is trespassing."
"If trespassing can help save lives, I'll risk it. We need all the information we can get."
Astrid hesitated before following him inside. When she entered the house, she was greeted with piles of papers, all of them related to the development of the artificial world Aries. There were drafts of the lore, sketches of architecture, NPC profiles, and other material. It was a treasure trove.
"Amazing. M.K. must have worked extra hard to create Aries. Look at all these concept papers," said Astrid as she picked one folder up.
"It'd be impossible for one person to create this much material and execute it in a short span of time. M.K. probably worked as a team..." Garth's voice trailed away as soon as he caught sight of something on top of a shelf. He walked slowly towards it as if mesmerized. His eyes widened in shock when he drew near enough to make out the features of the faces in the old photograph. "No way..."
"What is it?" Astrid moved to where he was. She saw that his eyes were locked onto a picture frame with three people in it.
Garth picked up the picture frame. "This is my brother, Wen." He pointed at the person on the farthest right. "Why is he in this photograph? I don't remember seeing any of these other people." He searched the place for more photographs. He found one more with the same three people.
Garth felt confused. "Wen never mentioned anything about this. I'm not sure how he is connected to M.K. and the development of Aries."
"Maybe we'll find more clues inside the papers," said Astrid.
"Let's keep looking."
They spent about an hour scavenging through papers, but none of them provided any clues about Wen's connection to M.K. They did, however, find some papers regarding the structure of Aries. It was exactly what they needed. With it, they could build a better portal.
"This box looks like it's filled with papers on the combat algorithms. Let's take it with us," said Garth as he picked the box up. "I hope M.K. won't mind if we borrow this."
The two left the house carrying the box of papers and other pertinent documents. There was no one around to witness their trespassing, so they managed to make it back to Garth's apartment safely with the box. There, they continued to rummage through the papers.
Garth gazed at Astrid as she took out papers from the box. "Are you sure you're fine doing some overtime work?"
Astrid stopped what she was doing and looked back at him. "Yeah. I'd also like to finish this quickly."
"Alright. Let's see what's inside this box then."