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393 Finally Got I

 "..."

Christie opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling vacantly.

The entire stronghold was dead silent. The little girl sat herself up and quietly took in everything before her eyes. Without a change of clothes, the little girl got off the bed and approached the door.

Christie didn't reach out to the knob but the wooden door quietly opened by itself. The little girl stepped out of the room. There weren't any sounds coming from the empty hallway. She turned around and ascended the stairs. Before her eyes, the locked large door suddenly opened automatically. Cold, night wind breezed from within and swept the little girl.

If it was the usual Christie, perhaps she would be shivering by now. However, at this moment, the girl's expression didn't change at all. She stepped up while barefooted and arrived the rooftop of the stronghold. The girl gazed upon the skies, but at this moment, the faint radiance in Christie's beautiful, amethyst right eye gradually intensified. The rich radiance flickered from within and it glowed ever brightly under the night skies.

No one saw that at this moment, the thick clouds were beginning to gather. The clouds sheltered the moon and stars and continuously let out deep rumbles. As the little girl listened attentively to it, she stretched out her five fingers towards the sky.

*Rumble!*

A streak of lightning ripped the clouds abruptly and it happened to strike at Christie, shrouding her within. In an instant, the little girl was flowing with purple electricity from head to toe and at this moment, Christie clenched her fist.

"Hu!!"

Along with this motion, the lightning suddenly reversed back into the skies. The clouds swiftly disappeared and in a blink of an eye, the moon hidden behind the thick clouds once again revealed itself. Lucid and elegant radiance fell from the skies once more.

"... Rhode..."

And at this moment, Christie swayed and softly muttered as she looked up at the night skies. Then, the little girl shut her eyes and collapsed to the ground.

"Bam!"

At that instant, Rhode felt his eardrums were deafened. Everything before his eyes were pure whiteness. His ears couldn't hear anything. There was an instance where Rhode had a misconception that he had left this world. However, in a short period of time, the whiteness gradually dispersed and the pitch-black, shattered hall once again unveiled before Rhode.

*Thump*

Up until this moment, Rhode's body heavily landed on the ground. He shook his head, and after realizing the powerful suction was gone, he turned around towards the ruins. It was silent and nothing was odd. Rhode reluctantly heaved a sigh of relief and stood himself up to carefully scan the area.

At this moment, the other mercenaries peeked out from behind boulders and walls in the ruins frightenedly. After ensuring everything was in order, all of them began scrambling towards Rhode and observed towards the direction of the broken passageway.

There was nothing.

What happened?

Rhode frowned at this strange sight. Although this wasn't too odd as a passageway ritual wouldn't leave any corpse or traces after it got destroyed, he was still dubious of the force that was able to shut off the forcefully opened ritual. This wasn't a passageway that required any precise positioning, complex ritual and a large number of sacrifices in order to open. This could even be considered a killing blow by the Demon General after it decided to take them down with himself. He used the residual energy and himself to blow up and shatter the ritual barrier. Such a passageway was the hardest to shut down. For example, a passageway is like a pipe where one can bring water over by opening the valve. Therefore, in order to close this passageway, one just needs to close the valve and seal the opening securely.

However, this violent behavior of the Demon General was no different from directly smashing a hole in the dam. Flood would begin to flow outwards and under such situations, it would be difficult no matter how one struggles!

But now, what exactly 'blocked' the flood of the passageway?

Not anyone would hold such strength. Even though Gillian might be possible, however, Rhode could swear that he didn't unlock her seal. Without unlocking Gillian's seal, her levels and strength were similar to Rhode. Furthermore, this passageway wasn't linked to fire elemental plane of existence, so Gillian's chances on this were basically zero.

So then, who exactly was it?

Rhode frowned and began to carefully ponder. He shifted his suspicious gaze towards the fox-ear maiden who was currently scanning the broken ground where the passageway was. However, detecting Rhode's gaze, Gillian shrugged her shoulders and indicated that she also got no clues.

No matter what, at least I got through this danger.

Rhode let out a long sigh and forced himself to throw this doubt to the back of his head. He turned around and gave a new command.

"Start a comprehensive search. Report any abnormalities immediately."

After receiving the orders, the mercenaries quickly got into work. Although they were tired and just skipped death, these mercenaries knew now wasn't the time to rest, therefore, they gritted their teeth and pulled themselves together for the search. However, not too long later, Anne, Joey, and Marfa who were responsible for the other three routes attacks had gathered. With their reports, Rhode had a preliminary understanding of the current situation.

Strictly speaking, this battle was very successful. Rhode's ambush succeeded in attracting most of the enemies' elite forces. Whereas, Gillian's barrage of fireballs terrified those Barbarians who were guarding the Fortress and they fled. On the other hand, Joey and Marfa used this opportunity to lead their men to the specific direction which Rhode had advised and immediately caught the Barbarians off guard. However, even so, it took a lot of effort in taking down these Barbarians. The main reason was that the Black Robes were overly hard to deal with and to the mercenaries, this situation was too unfamiliar for them. If the Demon General wasn't pinned down by Gillian, and Rhode didn't manage to defeat the Gloom Shadow, it would have been hard to predict who would have won. And even so, in these two troops of mercenaries, two of them died in the process and three were heavily injured. However, luckily, Rhode had plentiful Clerics by his side to pull the three of them back from the brink of deaths.

"Two died?"

Rhode wrinkled his brows reluctantly after knowing two men had died in the battles. To him, those two men could potentially be part of their future main forces. Now that they're dead, they couldn't be revived in this world. Therefore, after hearing this piece of the report, Rhode was truly regretful. However, the mercenaries were very calm to this news instead - They took down 200 over people successfully with only around 30 men. Moreover, they also defeated the demons that were defending this Fortress, which was a massive victory for them. From a normal human's perspective, even if both sides were human armies, the attacking side would have a chance for victory only if they had a few times more men than the defending side. Not only Rhode claimed a ferocious area with such limited manpower, he also seemed capable of predicting the enemies' moves. Whereas, these mercenaries weren't dumb either as they could naturally see Rhode's exquisite plans for this mission which they were admirable of. After noticing the depressed look on Rhode's face when the report of two men lost in the fight was heard, the mercenaries were thankful for his concern as it was rare to be under such a kind leader. However, they didn't know that deep down, Rhode was heart-aching for losing two rare elites.

"Please don't blame yourself, Sir. Life and death are ruled by fate. Those two brothers were unlucky, please don't take it too hard."

"I understand."

Rhode nodded in acknowledgment of the mercenaries' words. In fact, he knew he was wasting too much time worrying about insignificant problems. Actually, this was a natural reaction of a game player. Just like in the game, some players could go through some special missions or coincidences to recruit some elite NPCs to be their servants. Some NPCs were especially pretty and some had special abilities. These were considered a massive support for the players. However, only the players were able to revive after they died and not for the elite NPCs as they would disappear entirely. So, many players treasured their elite servants a lot and unless necessary, they wouldn't choose to let them die. There were many 'otaku' players who specialized in doing wacky tasks just for the sake of recruiting cute maidens as their servants. They would rather die a hundred times than to let an NPC die once. If the NPC dies due to any reason, these players would be heartbroken,

"But, it's still best if no one dies."

Of course, Rhode wouldn't be as heartbroken as those players. However, he did spend a huge amount of effort in recruiting these elite mercenaries. And for them to die in such a damned place, Rhode definitely didn't feel good at all. However, he understood that life and death were ruled by fate. There were those that fought hard in battlegrounds and survived but got knocked down by a car in front of their own home. What did they do wrong?

So, although Rhode felt depressed, he recovered after a moment.

And for the next report, it gave Rhode a little surprise - Those villages actually survived!

This was all thanks to Marfa - This middle-aged mercenary followed Rhode's orders and led his men all the way to clear from the underground sewer into the basement floor. Marfa discovered the villagers imprisoned in the white skeleton cage and quickly reported to Rhode. However, as Rhode was dealing with the troublesome enemies, he had totally missed the communications. As a result, Marfa had no choice but to make his own decision to rescue the villagers and lead them out of the Fortress through the path they took to reach them. Luckily, this decision was made on time. if not, the villagers would've been dead to the explosion.

At this moment, the searching mercenaries subsequently came to report their findings. The Fortress had been completely wiped off and there weren't any trace of Barbarians left.

Rhode let out a long, long sigh of relief after hearing this piece of news.

After spending so much effort, this Fortress was finally his.

Rhode swayed slightly at this thought. After diminishing his spiritual energy, Rhode was feeling oddly fatigue that he wished he could instantly shut his eyes and sleep for a moment before discussing the next plans. However, Rhode knew that this wasn't the time to sleep. So, he brought out his enthusiasm which he had years ago while staying up all night to clear dungeons and forcefully turned to everyone to give a command.

"Well done. This Fortress belongs to us now... Everyone has had a rough time so go and have your rest. Gillian, observe the surroundings since you're very free and energetic. You shall stay guard tonight..."

"Ah..."

Gillian instantly revealed a bitter-look on her face.

"Master, that's so cruel. My skin can't handle such devastation eh."

"That's an order, cut the crap."

Rhode leaned on the wall with the sword in hand as he replied in a bad mood. Gillian carefully observed him for a moment and nodded before flying through the hole on the Fortress ceiling.

Rhode was relieved and shut his eyes. He began to communicate with Canary who was guarding the stronghold. After claiming the Fortress, Rhode was prepared to redesign the entire stronghold to this location. Also, the Summon Gatein the stronghold should start to be built.

After receiving Rhode's callings, Canary's voice quickly responded in his ears.

"Ah, Leader. It's so late now... is it because you've claimed the Fortress?"

"That's right."

Rhode proudly snapped his fingers in response to Canary's query.

"The Fortress was settled. But it's so tiring... I have decided to rest for awhile and get to work tomorrow morning. By then I will assign you some authority to build the Summon Gate. Is there any problem with this?"

"It's not that there isn't any problem right now."

"Eh?"

Rhode was slightly astonished.

"DId something happen?"

"Yes, it's something related to Christie."

"Christie?"

Rhode threw his sleepiness to the back of his head after hearing this name. He immediately stood up with a stern expression.

"What happened to Christie?"

"We don't know the exact situation, Leader. Just now we heard a sudden loud explosion on the rooftop and Bubble (Referring to Mini Bubble Gum) realized the door towards the rooftop was opened. After we went up to check, we discovered Christie lying there unconscious... We just sent her back to her room and she's resting now."

"How is her condition?"

Rhode's expression slightly sunk as he asked softly.

"Her body should be fine now since you know what Bubble is capable of. All Christie had was a cold and she's fully cured now. But... When we asked Christie why was she on the rooftop, she was also puzzled and didn't know what were we talking about... Leader, Christie shouldn't have a habit of sleepwalking right?"

"I think not."

Rhode fell into deep thoughts for a moment and shook his head. In Deep Stone City, Rhode would find Christie obediently sleeping in her own bed after he ended his work every night and there weren't any signs of sleepwalking at all. Furthermore, Rhode could detect everyone's movements within the stronghold and in other words, if Christie really was sleepwalking, Rhode would have definitely discovered.

"Are there other things you two discovered?"

Rhode pondered for a while before he continued asking. Canary was a meticulous person and even though she was only just a projection at the moment, her nature wouldn't change. Indeed, after hearing Rhode's question, she quickly gave an answer.

"Yes, Leader. I questioned the mercenaries that were on guard and according to them, there seemed to be a lightning strike on the rooftop."

"Lightning?"

For unknown reasons, Rhode was suddenly reminded of that powerful lightning that struck the passageway ritual.

"What kind of lightning was that?"

"I didn't see it for myself so I couldn't describe it. But I heard that this lightning strike was really powerful and it coincidentally struck our rooftop. However, there weren't any traces of lightning strike after I've checked the rooftop.".

This was really a strange occurrence. If it were any other days, Rhode would have passed it on as a rumor. However, after everything that he encountered, he couldn't accept this as only just a coincidence. Christie collapsed on the rooftop and there was also the lightning strike. Meanwhile, there's another powerful lightning strike that sealed the broken passageway ritual almost at the same time. If this was only coincidence, the timing would be too ridiculous.

"Christie said she didn't know anything?"

"Yes, Leader. Christie said she had been sleeping in her room and had never left her bed. I do feel that she wasn't lying... Leader, do you want me to investigate?"

"It's alright."

Rhode paused for a moment after hearing Canary's suggestion. He eventually shook his head and denied. As a matter of fact, after hearing Canary's report, Rhode knew something was on. Previously in Golden City, Lydia wasn't able to cure Christie while Rhode and Gillian suspected that Christie might be having the bloodline of the Six Devil Guardians. Now it seemed that this situation proved their guesses - However, as the Six Devil Guardians were always mysterious, Rhode wasn't sure if there was a presence of a Devil that utilized lightning. Although Rhode was worried about Christie's current situation, such matters would be best-kept secret from the others.

"Get Bubble to take care of Christie. We have gotten the Fortress on our hands and once you've built the Summon Gate, we can transfer the system over. Right, get Shauna and the other mercenaries to get ready. From tomorrow onwards, we will be very busy.".

"Understood. I will pass this message to Miss Shauna and Mr Kavos."

Canary paused for a moment before she continued.

"Oh yes, Leader. There's another matter... Yesterday noon, there was a merchant named Matt came looking for you. He mentioned there's something to discuss with you and he left after knowing you weren't around. But from what I see, it seemed to be something important and he wished we could pass the message to you immediately once you're back."

"Oh?"

After hearing Canary's report, Rhode frowned. It seemed that he's finally here. This man... Disappeared after the midsummer festival and Rhode thought he wasn't going to be a part of this - Although merchants had their own standpoints, they eventually placed benefits as the priority. The South was a financial trade center and after Rhode's Starlight had offended the Southerners, it would be hard for Matt to transport goods in the future without getting harassed by them if they collaborated. From this viewpoint, it's understandable for Matt to not collaborate with Rhode.

However, now it seemed that this fat merchant had changed his mind? What exactly is he thinking? Rhode had no idea but to turn for the better was naturally a good thing for him. If not, based solely on his capabilities to feed his entire guild would be a tad too difficult.

"Understand. We will handle this after we built up the Fortress."

Rhode gave an answer while Canary slightly nodded before the communications were cut off.

"Hu..."

Up until this moment, Rhode rubbed his forehead in a circular motion as he sensed a fit of abnormal exhaustion.

It seemed that the troublesome problems were coming soon.