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212 Battle in the Nest 1

 Splat.

"That's the thirteenth one."

Rhode kept his sword and glanced at the dead Parasite. Then, he eyed his mercenaries and studied the state of their bodies.

Hmm... around two thirds?

"Let's take a break."

Rhode motioned them to sit down, and all the mercenaries immediately plopped onto the ground. He was pleased that they didn't return to their usual companions even though they were tired. All of them sat with each other and discussed the previous battle. Although their newfound cohesiveness was worthy of praise, Rhode chose not to say anything.

His stance towards his mercenaries was clear. He chose a rather harsh way of managing his mercenaries as he knew that humans would naturally perform better under heavy stress. In this case, he wanted them to strengthen their bonds, which they did in an incredibly short period of time. Rhode even planned not to let them rest if they couldn't raise their weapons, and only when they had mentally or physically broken down would he stop.

Under such pressure, the mercenaries had no time to consider minor problems between the different cliques. They took in deep breaths and slumped on the ground, grumbling to the other nearby mercenaries.

Rhode didn't want them to be too familiar with one another because it might cause him a headache one day if they decided to rise against him together. Basically, he wanted a balance between fear and respect, which was what he was looking at right now. This made him quite satisfied.

A mercenary group leader must not be overly amiable or understanding, and neither must they be unfriendly or rude. Rhode recalled a time where a lot of players left his guild because he was too cold. Since everyone was a player, he didn't have a reason to display his arrogance. However, Rhode was clear that a leader cannot lead with only kindness as a trait. When others begin to realize that you're not much different from themselves, significant problems will start occurring.

Kavos sat by the side, gazing at Rhode. The young, black-haired man sat quietly in the corner. Flames from campfire illuminated his slender frame. While he physically sat near the mercenaries, they felt like as though he was far away. As an ex-mercenary group leader, Kavos understood why Rhode did this because his brother Derick was the same. Initially, when Derick formed a mercenary group after the army ceased its operations, Kavos didn't feel that his reserved brother would be able to do a good job. He felt that Derick wasn't as skilled as him in soft skills and he wasn't as passionate as Obertan who could rely on his charm to control troublemakers. However, Derick still managed to succeed.

Although he wasn't well-liked amongst his members in the beginning, his stern attitude which he cultivated from the army eventually gained the recognition of the mercenaries. However, Kavos was clear that Rhode wasn't such a person. This experienced thief sensed the emotions that Rhode had been revealing time to time. It was arrogance, prideful and determined faith. One can forget about affecting his views on anything. That perpetually expressionless face kept all emotions within and would only reveal a smile in front of the little girl with the same face as him.

When Kavos met both Rhode and Christie, he was stunned. It was especially so when Rhode displayed a brilliant smile that easily rivaled the most beautiful flower in the continent, though he had to quickly change his thoughts because he remembered that this man hated anyone who treated him as the opposite gender.

Fortunately, Rhode did not appear in crowded areas with Christie... if not, who knew what would happen?

-

Almost there...

Rhode calculated the journey. They had spent five days in Blackrock Depths. Coincidentally, Rhode already predicted there would be certain situations, so he had given his men enough time to prepare for this. However, despite all the predictions and preparations, injuries were still unavoidable. Two mercenaries had already paid with their lives for their carelessness. The Parasite also infected five to six others. Luckily, Lize and Celia were there to rescue them. However, it would be hard to say if they wouldn't be traumatized by the method Celia used to dig out the worms from their bodies.

At this moment, most mercenaries had already recovered from their fatigue. They whispered curiously and looked to the direction of Rhode with worry in their eyes. Some quick-witted mercenaries had discovered that the amount of rest time equaled to the difficulty level of the upcoming monsters. If the monsters were strong, Rhode would let them rest longer, but if the monsters were weak, then they would be like the donkeys whipped by the merchants. These few days they were already used to Rhode's instructions, and now, they realized that their break had obviously been much longer than before.

Soon, more of them began to suspect something was wrong and seemed to discuss with themselves. No one dared to ask Rhode about it. Some of the mercenaries turned their heads towards the few maidens sitting with Rhode. They were the only ones allowed to sit in Rhode's vicinity. Therefore, no mercenaries dared to get closer to them. After all, these beautiful ladies had a unique charm of their own, like brightly lit lamps in the night. When they were fighting the monsters, the mercenaries realized that the maidens weren't anywhere safer than themselves. Anne's passionate and outgoing characteristic touched some of their hearts.

However, Marlene's sharp gaze was like a sword hanging near their necks. Her cold expression was enough to stop those mercenaries from getting close to her and made them consider if it was worth it. They didn't wish to get hurt by playing this stupid game...

The only one they could talk to was the gentle cleric who healed their wounds. Even if they feigned injuries, she wouldn't get mad. But Celia would intervene sometimes and stare at those mercenaries with her piercing gaze.

In other words, the four ladies were like a bunch of thorny roses. Beautifully dangerous. If you hug them, you'll get pricked. But even if you retreat, somehow, something would draw you back to them.

Perhaps some outsiders might even envy these mercenaries who had the chance to party with such beautiful women in a dark cave. But little did they know that this was nothing like those erotic fantasies in their heads. It could even be considered mental torture.

Frankly, when the mercenaries saw the four women together with Rhode, they didn't feel a speck of jealousy. Rather, they felt that it would only cause unnecessary trouble if they associated with them.

"All right, get up."

Under all of their gazes, Rhode clapped his hands and stood up. The mercenaries quickly got up along with him. These few days, they had gotten used to this motion. Their leader was extremely cautious, before every battle, he would give out critical life-saving pointers. They had to admit, compared to a leader that gave vague reminders such as 'All of you be careful', 'beware your back', Rhode's pointers were much more helpful in staying alive.

"We'll get busy soon. I hope that everyone is ready. I've given you ample time to rest because the next battle will be incredibly tough. And how tough you say? All I can answer is that it will require you to utilize what you've learned so far."

The mercenaries immediately paled. After a few days of experiencing the command of this young leader, they were somewhat desensitized to his odd way of describing the danger. The way he warned them was as though he had been to this place before. But still, the things that he told them brought fear to the mercenaries.

They subconsciously checked their reserves and found that they weren't fully stocked. At most, they had only two more bottles of flaming agents. However, they still had an ample number of healing potions left. They understood the usefulness of the flaming agents, but it was useless against those crawling worms on the ground.

"Marlene."

Rhode signaled to the young mage who stood up and walked towards him. Then, Rhode made his way to the mercenaries and gave them a few scrolls. Meanwhile, Marlene was quite unhappy because the number of Fire-type scrolls she purchased wasn't what she expected. While she still did manage to acquire a decent amount, she realized that someone had bought the rest of them. This unexpected event forced her to sit in front of a desk and craft the scrolls herself. Oh lord, since 13 years old, this maiden had already stopped doing such mundane things that only apprentices would do.

Fortunately, time didn't wear off her ability to craft scrolls. She could still vividly recall how to draft the formations and diagrams needed for the scroll, but that didn't make Marlene any happier.

"In the upcoming battle, all of you will need these magical scrolls." After confirming that everyone had received a scroll, Rhode continued, "The way to use them is simple. Tear off the seal and throw it out. But everyone must listen to my command and not act on your own unless you have to... Kavos, I will leave you in charge. This time, our defense circle will be larger so we may not be able to handle every corner and there may be leaks. I need you to be well prepared."

"Yes, Leader."

Kavos nodded.

"Marlene," Rhode looked towards Marlene by his side and said, "Since you're considered quite experienced now, I don't think I need to clarify much. Still, I need you to be aware of threats from underground. If you suddenly feel the earth tremble, you must leave that area! It is the same for the rest of you. Anne, your priority is to protect Marlene, the rest is secondary. And lastly, Lize, you'll need to use your abilities this time."

"Yes, Mr. Rhode. I understand."

Lize stood up and answered firmly. Everyone had significant growth from the time spent in the mirage. Lize was no different. No matter where she went, she'll never forget those techniques. Previously, Lize always played the role of a support, but now, she finally had the chance to display her true battle abilities.

"Very well, let's move."

Rhode spoke indifferently as though it was any other ordinary adventure.

However, when the group reached a deep, empty cave, they began to regret not having Rhode give them some pep talk to boost their morale. At least in such circumstances, they hoped that someone would provide them with courage and encouragement.

In the dark underground, a bright radiance flashed. A thick stench of blood filled every corner of the room. Even the soil on the ground was moist and disgusting. Marlene realized that Rhode's warning wasn't necessary because as soon she stepped on the dirt, it shook slightly as if it was alive.

Whether Rhode had warned her or not, Marlene was certain that she didn't like this mushy feeling at all.

Suddenly, something trembled in the distance.

A towering, giant hunk of flesh stood upright. Due to the light emitted from the group, everyone could quickly identify the abomination. Countless tentacles flew across the air, and not far away from the body were Parasites. They appeared much larger and more threatening than the Parasites the mercenaries previously encountered. These beings were once humans that had transformed into a monster because of the fiends.

However, the most frightening part of the massive chunk of flesh was its core. In the middle of the squirming tentacles, there was a section filled with pale, churning liquids that periodically dripped to the floor.

"Oh my god!"

Lize immediately cupped her mouth to stop herself from screaming. Marlene merely frowned, not saying anything else. However, the way she gripped her wand revealed her unstable emotions. Anne was the most psychologically affected one. She let out a cry and quickly hid behind the crowd. And as for Celia, she remained the same as always. Her sword was lifted, ready to vanquish the evil before her.

The corpse entangled in the sea of tentacles made the four women react adversely. It was the half-elf maiden.

Her four limbs were completely hidden behind the chunk of flesh and her round eyes were soulless as she stared into open space. A tentacle was forcefully stuffed into her mouth, wriggling grotesquely as it pumped gallons of liquids into her. Compared to her slender frame, her stomach area was unnaturally bloated, and within her belly, something appeared to be moving. From time to time, several tentacles entered between the legs of the half-elf maiden. Once the tentacles retracted, pale fluids would gush out, followed by white, tiny eggs slipping out onto the ground. Then, the eggs would sink into the rotten flesh on the ground and fuse into a bulging vessel, pumping nutrients to the main body. Then once more, the tentacles repeated the vicious cycle.

"Such... wretched evilness... unforgivable!"

Everyone shuddered in fear and disgust. Compared to the loathe that the male mercenaries had for the evil being, the four women had a more profound understanding of the half-elf maiden's agony.

"No time for chit-chat. Time to move!"

Rhode's reassuring voice woke everyone from their stupor. And at this time, they heard a familiar squeaking sound - hundreds of fiends suddenly emerged from the darkness, leaping towards them.