In the dark woods that night, a lone mage walked through the path and killed everything that came out to attack him. Everything died in one hit. After all, the level gap was wide.
Garth cast a wind spell to carry him to a high branch where he waited for someone he was meeting. After around a few minutes, he heard the sounds of fighting below. He looked down and saw a female assassin fighting wolves. He recognized her. She was that girl he met the other day. One of Pio's friends. He wondered why she was fighting all alone in the middle of the night.
"Hey Boss. What are you up to?" A male assassin suddenly appeared behind Garth. He glanced at Astrid and smirked. "I didn't know you were the type who'd spy on girls."
Garth ignored his comment. "Do you have the report?"
"Got it right here." The assassin waved the paper.
"Thanks, Sphinx." Garth received the paper and read it. It was dim, but thanks to the moonlight, he could make out the letters written on the paper. He narrowed his eyes. He didn't like what he was reading.
"It's not decisive evidence, but it does put him under suspicion. What do you think, Boss?"
"We'll continue to keep an eye on him. I have a bad feeling about this."
"Understood. I'll call you when I get more information."
"Take care of yourself, Boss." Sphinx jumped up and disappeared among the trees.
Garth thought about heading back to the Black Rose Headquarters, but decided to stay and watch Astrid instead. It reminded him of his days back when he was still at her level.
After killing one last wolf, Astrid collapsed on the ground and took a rest. She removed a bottle of orange juice from her inventory and drank it. She checked the time. It was almost two in the morning. She decided she would kill twenty more wolves before going back to the base.
Suddenly, a party invitation came.
Garth would like to invite you to his party.
Her eyes widened. Garth?
She hit the OK button. Right after that, the mage jumped down from a tree. His red coat fluttered behind him as he landed and stood before her.
"Come," was all Garth said before he started walking off to one direction. She followed behind him, still confused about what was happening.
"Where are we going?" she asked.
He didn't answer.
They continued walking until they reached a nearby cave filled with slimes.
"Sit here. Don't move." He looked through his inventory and pulled out a double exp apple. "Eat this and call me if something attacks you."
Astrid nodded. She was still confused about why Garth led her there.
Garth lured all the monsters in the cave and cast an area of effect skill Blizzard, freezing and killing everything surrounding him. In an instant, her experience point percentage went up. He continued doing the same thing over and over.
She wanted to ask him why she was helping her, but decided not to. She didn't want to break his concentration. She just sat and watched him. One day, she hoped to become as powerful as him.
After around an hour, he stopped and yawned. "That's it for today."
"Umm... Thanks for helping me level up," Astrid said.
"Meet me here again tomorrow at midnight."
She nodded. "Ok."
Astrid yawned as she stepped into the kitchen in the morning. She barely got any sleep because of all the training. She almost stumbled as she sat on a chair in the dining room.
"Morning! I cooked eggs," Amelie said as she served a plate of hard boiled eggs on the table. "It increases strength by 2 and lasts six hours."
"Wait. Why are you level 44 now?" Luna stared at the guildmaster suspiciously.
"Well, I..." Astrid looked sideways to avoid her gaze.
"Astrid, you haven't been hacking have you? No one just wakes up and suddenly gains ten levels."
"No, I haven't been hacking."
"Even if you spent the whole night training alone, I don't think it's possible to gain levels that fast unless you were with a party and a double exp item," Lyria said.
Astrid hesitated before speaking. "Garth helped me."
"Garth?" Everyone was surprised.
"Wait. Who's this Garth?" Amelie asked while stuffing herself with eggs.
"He's a mage of Black Rose," Astrid replied.
"How did that happen?"
"I was just killing wolves alone, when he suddenly showed up and sent me a party invitation. Then, he gave me a double exp apple and began killing monsters with his area of effect skill until I gained ten levels."
"He wants to meet me again tonight."
"Ooh!" Luna and Lyria said in unison with a smile.
"So he just randomly helped you?" Amelie asked.
Astrid took a hardboiled egg from the plate. "Yeah. I don't know why. I'll have to ask."
Lyria examined Astrid's eyes, which showed signs of fatigue. "In that case, you'd better get some sleep. You look really tired."
"I think I'll go back to bed after eating breakfast." Astrid yawned. "What are you planning to do today?"
"Pumpkins," Lyria replied.
"I think I'll do some secret training too!" Amelie flipped her hair to look cool.
"It's not a secret anymore if you announce it to us."
"But you don't know what I'm doing while training, so it's still a secret! Ha!" She did a second hair flip to double the coolness.
"I'll get the card equipped and maybe shop for some equipment," said Luna as she finished eating.
"Alright. Have fun." Astrid dragged herself to the bedroom where she fell on her bed and immediately went to sleep.
That same day, a female assassin named Jasmine was passing through the woods on her way to Lamont to meet her guildmates, Sed and Yaya. The high-level assassin jumped from branch to branch while traveling. She could have easily just warped directly to town, but she enjoyed this method of traveling. From a distance, she spotted what looked like a male mage being chased by a pack of wolves.
"This is not how I pictured my secret training!" Amelie shouted as she ran.
Jasmine stopped. She felt the need to help the poor mage. She jumped down and ambushed the pack of wolves, using her area of effect skill to kill them all instantly.
"Wow! That was so cool!" Amelie exclaimed.
"Huh? Oh, umm... Thanks." Jasmine blushed upon hearing Amelie's words. "Are you alright?"
"I'm great! Thanks for saving me."
"No problem." Jasmine stole glances at the mage's face, which she found quite attractive.
Amelie rummaged her bag. "Say, I don't have much on me, but would you like some cake?"
"You don't have to..."
"Oh, but I insist! You did save me after all. They're freshly baked! I just made them this morning." Amelie handed the cake to her. "Here. Please enjoy them."
Jasmine found him nicer than all the other guys she met in Aries. She happily received the cake. "Thanks. I'm meeting up with my friends so I have to go now."
"Alright. Have a nice day!"
"Wait. My name is Jasmine. What's yours?"
Jasmine found herself smiling. "Nice to meet you, Chris. Bye!" She jumped up and left.
Once she reached Lamont's town square, she found Yaya and Sed sitting by the fountain. They stopped their conversation once they noticed her.
Yaya examined her face. "Your face looks red, Jasmine. Are you alright?"
"Have you been running, Jas?" Sed asked.
"No, I'm fine. Are you guys hungry? I have some cake over here." Jasmine took out the cake Amelie gave her. "It's freshly baked."
"My, my! Did you make these?" Yaya took one slice.
"I saved someone in the woods and he gave them to me."
Sed smirked. "Is that why your face is red?"
She blushed even harder. "Of course not! It was from the running."
Yaya smiled while eating the cake. "Try some, Sed! They're delicious. Don't you love it when a guy can cook?"
Jasmine agreed. "Yeah. Too bad Sed can't cook."
Sed frowned. "Hey, I can cook too."
"Yeah, but your cooking level is at one. Cake takes a cooking level of twenty."
"I bet you girls can't cook either."
Yaya still kept the same happy expression while eating the cake. "I can't cook cake, but at least I can make steak."
"Same here. You still lose this round, Sed." Jasmine folded her arms and smirked. "Even Pio's a better cook than you."
Lyria happily walked through the free marketplace. The drop rate for pumpkins that day was great, which boosted her mood. As she was on her way to her usual spot for selling, she was stopped by a male mage she didn't know.
"Hey, where are you off to?" he asked.
Lyria ignored him and just continued walking.
He followed her. "Are you ignoring me, babe?"
Lyria still did not interact with him. She was beginning to get annoyed.
"Hey..." He was about to place a hand on her shoulder when someone grabbed his arm.
It was Lyngvi, the second-in-command of the Knights Alliance. He just happened to be there looking for some ores to forge a strong sword.
"That's no way to speak to a lady," said Lyngvi.
"Vi!" Lyria turned around.
The mage glared at him and walked away after snatching back his arm.
"Are you alright?" Lyngvi asked Lyria.
"Yes. Thank you for driving him away. I was beginning to get uncomfortable."
"Does this happen often?"
"Once in a while. It's frustrating."
Lyngvi shook his head in disappointment. "Men like him should have more manners."
"They should follow your example."
He chuckled. "Are you here for shopping, Lyria?"
Lyria wanted to scream out of happiness because he remembered her name. "Actually, I'm here to sell off my pumpkins."
"Ah. My guild might need some. How much for ten pumpkins?"
Lyria gave him the ten pumpkins. "You can have it for free. It's thanks for helping me earlier."
"Are you sure? I can just pay for these. You might need the funds for your equipment."
"It's fine. Please take them."
He laughed. "Thanks. I'll see you around then." He waved and left.
Lyria felt like fainting. She was so happy at that moment that she accidentally tripped and hit someone.
"Woah! Lyria!" The person she hit was luckily Luna, who was there shopping for some cards. "Are you ok? You look drunk."
"Lyngvi just stopped a guy from hitting on me!" Lyria said with a grin on her face.
"Ooh!" Luna was happy for her friend. "Nice going!" She kept nudging Lyria. "Why don't we celebrate at the café after I buy my cards and after you sell your pumpkins?"
Lyria laughed. "Sounds great!"
When Astrid woke up, she found the headquarters empty. The time was 4 o'clock. She ended up sleeping for most of the day. As she walked into the kitchen for a snack, she checked her menu tablet for their guild points. They were at 1,290. If they kept it up, they could reach 3,000 points before the end of the event registration.
"Just a bit more," she mumbled.
Luna left the magazine on the table, so Astrid picked it up to read and pass the time. There was an article featuring some great spots to visit for a vacation. One of them was Mt. Alto Hot Springs. She decided she'd take the guild there after they found time for it.
She continued flipping through the magazine until she found a section of a list of players exiled from Aries for hacking. It was a long list of names that filled half a page.
Hacking was a serious thing in the world of Aries. Most players were banned for simple hacks such as increasing levels or gold. However, there were also those players who liked changing certain things about the world such as monster behavior or weather. These hacks could possibly harm players, so players who did those types of hacks were often placed on top priority and given a bounty.
Astrid had been studying the art of artificial world development, so she was familiar with the methods of hacking. However, she did not dare use her skills in this world. It was too risky. Plus, it made things too easy and less fun anyway.
After she finished eating a slice of Amelie Chrosse's cake, she yawned and decided to just go back to sleep.
When Astrid woke up again, she found her friends already sleeping in their beds. She checked the time. It was 11 o'clock. She prepared herself to meet Garth.
Upon reaching the cave where they stayed at the previous night, she saw no signs of the Black Rose mage, so she sat and waited. As she leaned against the cave walls, a double exp apple suddenly came flying her way. She immediately caught it.
"Good reflexes," Garth commented as he approached her. "Come." He went inside the cave first. Astrid followed behind him while munching on the apple.
"Garth, why are you helping me?" Astrid asked.
He stopped and turned around. "No reason. I just felt like it."
"Sit here just like last time." He came up to her and checked her level. "We'll meet at another location tomorrow so you can get experience points faster."
He did the same thing he did the previous day, luring monsters and killing them with his Blizzard spell.
After a while, he suddenly stopped. Monsters were attacking around him, but they barely made a dent on him. "Astrid," he called her.
She wondered what was wrong. "Yeah?"
He met her eyes. "Did you notice anything strange lately?"
"What do you mean?"
"Like monsters acting weird or appearing in places where they shouldn't."
She shook her head. "I didn't notice anything like that so far."
"I see. Please let me know if you do."
"I will. Does that have something to do with hacking?"
They both said nothing related to the topic afterwards. Astrid felt like it wasn't her business to pry. However, a part of her did want to ask him about it. His sudden question bothered her at the back of her mind.
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