73 A City in the Deser
About a minute passed before Astrid made any attacks. She took the time to analyze the scorpion boss' moves and attack pattern. Fighting in-game bosses was all about knowing when to time attacks and dodges. Each boss always had a set attack pattern, and moves that trigger if a player performed a certain action or when its health reaches a certain percentage. Some bosses had counterattacks for specific status effects like stun and freeze. Sometimes these counterattacks were one hit KO moves.
Once she was confident that she could time her attack right, she summoned a blizzard from the mage's skill tree to freeze her opponent and ended it quickly with the assassin's ultimate attack. She didn't want to risk finding out if it had a one hit KO counterattack.
The scorpion boss collapsed on the ground, defeated. Astrid sighed in relief.
"How did you get those skills?"
She turned around to the sound of the deep male voice. Behind her was a tall man about four or five years older than her. He had white hair, the exact same shade of Garth's hair. However, he had a completely different aura, similar to that of an alpha wolf. She noticed some scars on his muscular arm.
"Are you with the hackers?" she asked cautiously.
"I asked first. You're an assassin, aren't you? How are you able to use skills from other classes?"
"I recoded it."
He appeared amused. "Looks like you did a little hacking yourself."
"Whose side are you on?" She rephrased her question.
"That's my line."
They stood still for a moment, almost ready to draw their weapons for a fight. Eventually, the mysterious male eased up his stance after seeing that she didn't move to attack. Maybe she really wasn't with the hackers.
"The name is Wen," he introduced himself.
She recognized the name. The previous guildmaster of Black Rose who suddenly disappeared. "Garth's older brother?"
He had on a look of surprise and amusement. "Huh? You know my little brother Garth? Maybe you're not such a suspicious person after all."
"You're pretty suspicious yourself."
"Let's go before that scorpion respawns." He turned around to leave. "I still have more questions for you, but standing here out in the open isn't safe."
"Where are we going?"
"To a safer area."
Wen led her through the inhospitable desert until they reached a small oasis. There was a giant boulder there with a hole that was large enough to allow a person to pass through.
"Follow me," he instructed and went through the hole. As soon as he did, he simply vanished without a trace.
Astrid hesitantly entered. When she did, she found herself in a beautiful city surrounded by sand. Its buildings were built high up with sandstone and decorated with various desert flowers for aesthetics. There were players gathered around the fountain at the city square.
An invisible city in the middle of the desert?
"What is this place?" Astrid asked.
"This was an area under development that M.K. wanted to release by the end of this year. We are using it as a refuge for now because the enemy probably isn't aware of its existence," Wen explained.
As they walked down the pathway, Astrid noticed a large bulletin board with a long list of missing people. She noticed two familiar names on them: Pio and Dick Gaylord. The amount of names on the board astounded her.
There are still this many players trapped here?
Of course. The people they managed to rescue were all just the players who joined the ball and who happened to be at Lamont when they started recruiting guildless players to give them refuge. They couldn't reach out to all the rest.
Wen continued, "We send out scouting teams everyday to look for players still out there. Luckily, there were still some who managed to survive."
Jasmine was the first one who saw her. Sed followed behind her, overjoyed to see their ally again. They both hugged her.
"Jasmine! Sed!" Astrid was happy to see them alive. "Thank goodness you're alright."
"Were you wandering alone?"
Astrid shook her head. "Lyria, Luna, Tank, Garth, and I all made it out, but we came back to get the remaining players stuck here."
Sed was touched. "You guys came back for us?"
"Where are the others?" Jasmine asked.
"We got separated on the way in. Lyria, Luna, Tank, Garth, and Epsilon are still out there."
"If my little brother is still out there, we have to head off and find them quickly." Wen turned around. "Alice! Can I bother you with preparations? We need to do a quick survey of the area for five players who could be nearby. I'll join you in a minute after I gather more information."
A girl who was standing near Wen nodded in response. Beside her was an orange and white cat who followed her around. Suddenly, the cat morphed into a large fox, a perfect mount for travel. Astrid recognized the class. The girl was a beastmaster.
Beastmasters fought alongside their shapeshifter familiars. It was a newly released class, so there weren't as many beastmasters in Aries.
Wen walked away to pack up some supplies for the trip.
"What about Chris?" Jasmine was anxious to hear the news.
"Chris is..." Astrid looked down sadly. Jasmine and Sed both immediately had an idea about what happened.
"He didn't make it?"
Astrid shook her head. "We got separated when the bridge collapsed. Then... Vi killed..." She struggled getting the words out. It was hard admitting the truth.
Tears filled Jasmine's eyes when she heard the news. "No! Why would Vi do that?"
Sed was angry. "That stupid Vi! What's his problem?"
"I saw Pio's name on the list. What happened to him? And how were you left behind while Garth made it out?" Astrid wanted some answers.
Jasmine and Sed looked at each other uncomfortably. After a few seconds, Sed began to explain, "We saw... Yaya."
"Yaya appeared?" Astrid's eyes widened.
"She was urging us Black Rose core members to get into the portal fast. Garth insisted that he leave last, so Yaya pushed him into the portal when he was facing the other way. She tried to convince the rest of us, but we didn't want to leave before everyone else got in before us. So she ran away. We chased after her, but lost her and Pio on the way. When we went back, we found the portal closed."
"How did you end up here?"
"We took refuge in an abandoned NPC house in the woods for a few days until Wen found us and brought us here."
Astrid noted their grim faces as they remembered the horrors of that day. "Wait. Where's Sphinx?"
"He's out scouting for players to rescue right now. He should be back soon."
Astrid waited for Wen to finish his preparations. As she waited, she noticed one building full of beds and sick people. She curiously approached it. Sed noticed her interest and stood behind her.
Sed explained, "A few days ago, people started falling ill and it gradually spread. We have no clue about what is causing this. We don't have any medical expert here."
"Lyria might be able to do something. We need to locate her and the others quick." Astrid was confident that Lyria's skills were sufficient to cure the sickness.
"Jasmine and I will help you look for the others."
"No problem." He smiled. "No matter how bad things get, we're always allies." He left to help Wen pack up supplies for their search party.