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244 Awakening 4

 Behind the huge door lay a space that was familiar to Rhode.

On the surface, its appearance was similar to the Behermes' central control room. The only difference was that there was no crystal ball hovering in the air, and white slab covered this entire room, which was totally different from the pitch-black room from before.

The whole room seemed to be cold and cheerless with dozens of Behermes statues silently lined in two rows by the wall, holding stone-made weapons in their hands. Rhode didn't believe that these were Golem Guards as their bodies had deformed over the long years. At this moment, they were merely normal artistic pieces.

However, compared to these, Rhode found something even more peculiar.

Five pitch-black coffins were erected straight up in the middle of the room and a smear of black on them gave them an oddly glaring appearance. Rhode slowed down his pace and reminded Lapis to be careful. On the other hand, Gillian shifted her position so she could she protect the maiden and also aid Rhode. Then, the trio slowly approached the coffins.

"Ah!"

The maiden's scream broke the silent air. Rhode turned to Lapis with a frown and found her covering her mouth worriedly while her big round eyes were overflowing with fear. Then, she calmed down and explained.

"L-Leader, t-there's a voice speaking to me."

Again?

Rhode twitched his brows and turned to Gillian. The latter shook her head and she believed that this wasn't something to be alarmed of. However, even so, Rhode stayed vigilant. He thought for a moment and said.

"What did it say?"

"It... It asked if I'm the heir of the Behermes Family, and... it said it had something to tell me."

Lapis showed lingering fears on her face. She couldn't be blamed since the previous traumatic experience was just within the past hour. Even the most carefree person in the world wouldn't forget about it easily. This was why Lapis immediately reported to Rhode as soon as she felt a voice attempting to speak to her.

The maiden stuck closely behind Rhode while clutching onto his clothes. Her expression was filled with uncertainty even though she had received the Behermes Family's knowledge and experience. It didn't seem to have made any changes to her character...

Rhode wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing.

Rhode observed the surroundings, but nothing seemed to be of a threat. He had not come to this place before because, normally, reaching the central control room would mean victory for the players. However, this special individual mission of Lapis obviously brought them to an unfamiliar place. Rhode shut his eyes calmly and carefully thought it through.

"What did it say?"

The trio was trapped in this place and needed an opportunity to escape. Rhode wasn't sure if this was considered as an opportunity, but it was better than working their way through without any leads. Furthermore, since the voice here was almost the same as that idiot from the central control room, it would also mean as extra spoils of war for Rhode. Originally, after defeating the boss, the reward had already been absorbed by Lapis and nothing was left for himself, which was kind of disappointing. And now, if there was another boss who wished to present itself as a sacrifice to compensate for Rhode's loss, he would be more than happy to take it.

"It said..."

Lapis tilted her head and listened for a brief moment.

"... It wishes to know your identities... Huh?"

Lapis sulked and her face was smeared with a reddish blush. Then, the maiden took two steps back and waved her hand in denial.

"It's not. You are mistaken. It's not like that..."

It seemed that Lapis was interacting with the unknown voice. What exactly did it say to make her so panicked? Rhode and Gillian looked at each other suspiciously and before they were able to ask, Lapis lowered and shook her head, embarrassed, as if she understood something.

What exactly was she talking to the voice about?

Rhode wasn't too affected by this commotion and continued to stay vigilant of the surroundings to prevent any accidents. He didn't notice that Gillian was already looking over at him with a profound smile and twitching ears.

After a few moments, Lapis finally lifted her head. Rhode carefully observed her and she seemed to have restored her calmness a little. At the very least, her eyes were back to their clear radiance. This proved that she wasn't under anyone's control anymore. However, what made Rhode suspicious was that Lapis' fair cheeks had turned red as though she had a fever.

Then, the maiden stuttered.

"L-Leader, it wishes to speak to you..."

"Oh?"

Rhode was taken aback. However, before he reacted, a deep, loud voice resounded in the pure white room.

"Hi there, my guests. I represent the protector of Behermes and hereby welcome your arrival."

"Thank you for your warm hospitality." Rhode sulked as he held onto his sword and scanned the surroundings. "I apologize. We have something urgent and we hope to leave this place now... Not sure if you could give us a hand?"

"Of course. I'm willing to help." The voice sounded calm and monotonous. "But, before that, you have to pass my test, Black Successor."

Successor?

Rhode knitted his brows. He turned to see Lapis dressed in a green cloak and Gillian in a white gown. He was the only one dressed in a pitch-black nobleman's clothes. Was that voice referring to me? And what's with the "Successor'? I don't remember having any relations with the Behermes Family?

"I don't understand what you mean."

Of course, Rhode wouldn't recognise himself by adding another title which he wasn't aware of, so he quickly answered.

"Although I'm indeed dressed in a black shirt, I'm sorry that I'm not a Successor. I think you might have mistaken me for someone else."

"I have not mistaken, Successor."

Facing Rhode's answer, the voice had no intentions of changing its view and answered calmly.

"I, the protector of the Behermes Family, am the guardian of this land of the Behermes Family's great martyr. I have witnessed the ritual that you have gone through with our most perfect heir, and now you wish to abandon your calling?"

"Ritual? Calling?"

Although this voice wasn't as strange as the one in the central control room, Rhode felt ridiculed. It seemed that the long period of isolation had lowered their abilities to communicate and Rhode couldn't understanding what the voice was talking about. Of course, if it were in the game, Rhode wouldn't care for such crap. Even if the other party had 1001 reasons, he eventually would need to defeat it, so couldn't he cut the crap?

This time around, facing Rhode's questions, the voice went silent for a moment. Then, an enchantment image appeared before Rhode.

That was the scene when they first arrived in this underground world. Then, Rhode extended his right hand to lift Lapis' chin and kissed her lips without any hesitation...

"Wahh!"

Lapis covered her eyes with both hands and lowered her head in embarrassment. Rhode was dumbstruck and left speechless. The deep voice spoke once more.

"You have expressed your devotion and beliefs to our Behermes Heir and passed the ritual to protect her. The Behermes heir herself has personally agreed, yet you still choose to give up, Black Successor?"

...

Rhode was stupefied. Oh lord, he had never thought this would happen and he didn't know that the Behermes Family had such a rule.

Are you kidding me? That was only a kiss... Forget it, it's useless to talk about it now. So what's next?

As Rhode pondered helplessly over what to do next, someone tapped his shoulder lightly. He turned around and found Gillian with a grin, obviously soaking in the joy of his calamity.

"You need payback for what you have done, Master. Just admit it..."

"... You mean you don't intend to help?"

"Isn't that for sure?"

Gillian answered so righteously as though she didn't care about her own summoner's death.

"..."

Rhode hopelessly shook his head and looked at Lapis. The maiden's face was full on red as she fixed her gaze at the ground. She couldn't be blamed since-to be honest, Rhode knew where he went wrong, but he had already received a tight slap in return, right? If only he knew earlier at that time...

But, it was a pity that there was no medicine for regrets in this world.

Rhode shrugged and resigned to his fate.

"So, what do I need to do to pass this test?"

Suddenly, the center of the room where the black coffins were erected shone brightly. Then, lines of golden runes appeared within the light circle. In a blink of an eye, the lines of golden runes formed a silhouette of a human and it approached Rhode.

"Rules are simple. You will pass the test as long as you defeat me and prove your might to be capable of protecting the Behermes heir."

After that long commotion, didn't it still come down to this in the end?

Rhode rolled his eyes and lifted his sword.

"Sure, I won't hold back."