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438 Underground Maze I

 Although Rhode wasn't able to bid for the Endless Forcefield successfully, it was something extra after all. Instead, the Maze Key was the crucial item and just obtaining it was good enough for Rhode.

And now, the pre-mission for the Castel Plateau Ruins mission awaited him: exploration of the underground maze.

According to the in-game players's excavation, this underground maze was situated in the Central Garden of Eagle City. The secret entrance would link to the underground maze through a tunnel and of course, this secret tunnel came with a long history... However, Rhode had no interest in how long its history was, nor how hair-raising it was. All he cared about was that this tunnel would lead him to obtain some equipment that would assist him in completing the main mission easily.

A portion of the players who were enthusiasts about the game's storyline felt that this popular method was simple, crude, and even lacked a sense of beauty. This was because these tunnels and secrets were the fruits of success which they had obtained after immersing themselves fully in the plot and consuming countless energy. Just like the fountain in the Central Garden, someone first discovered the secret tunnel hidden within it through a suicide note. After this player took great pains to source for the four slate key fragments and combined it, the tips carved on the back of the completed slate key fragments revealed that the secret was hidden in the fountain in the Central Garden...

However, Rhode saved himself all these troubles. At midnight, he stood by the fountain in the deserted Central Garden. After confirming that there wasn't anyone around, he stretched to find a steel chain behind the wing of the fountain sculpture and gave it a strong pull.

It was that simple, easy, free and unconstrained. And the satisfaction from finding the clues was absent. How boring...

A deep noise sounded beside their feet. The fountain stopped flowing and the pool of water in it began separating in half swiftly, revealing a pitch-black abyss. In a blink of an eye, the pool of water in the fountain was dried completely, displaying before everyone a flight of stairs leading to the bottomless darkness.

"Woah..." Anne was in awe as her jaw dropped.

Rhode observed the flight of stairs before him and started descending it with Anne and Gillian following closely. The entire tunnel was pitch-black; however, it wasn't dark enough to hinder Rhode's group. Gillian snapped her fingers and summoned numerous fireballs around them to brighten the path ahead.

The secret tunnel was rather narrow as it could fit only two people side by side. Wet watermarks remained on the slate and the entire tunnel was filled with fresh water vapor. Rhode focused his vision ahead while leading Gillian, followed by Anne.

"Although we have gotten the Maze Key successfully, Master, you aren't too satisfied it seems?" Gillian asked as she strolled casually, sizing Rhode up.

Rhode shrugged his shoulders. "A little. Although we did obtain the key, we didn't manage to get the Endless Forcefield, which was a pity. Even though it was possible to win it if I continued to bid, it wouldn't be a smart choice if I spent too much on it too. But I do have a plan, and that is after we have dealt with our proper business."

"Pfff." Gillian sneered at Rhode unexpectedly. "Master, I didn't think that you would be that interested in that thing... So I'm quite surprised."

"Isn't that normal?" Rhode twitched his brows curiously at Gillian's rather odd gaze, as though she were looking at a guy who had gone astray with drugs but escaped without knowing how lucky he was. It was too weird.

"I guess you must be aware of the powers of the Endless Forcefield. That could be said to be a magical crystal. If we can obtain it, we can use it with the Sphere of Mystery to exhibit considerably formidable powers. This way, we will gain the upper hand in future battles. Isn't that a good thing?" Rhode didn't understand Gillian's ridicule.

Judging from her attitude, this Endless Forcefield seemed to be something that shouldn't be messed with. However, Rhode couldn't figure the side-effects. After all, he had read the discussions about this Endless Forcefield on online forums and he was sure that there weren't any strange curses or side-effects. If there really were, the players wouldn't keep hushed about it, right?

"That's for sure a good thing, and I have no intentions of being rude to you, Master." Although Gillian's tone of words were as respectful as usual, they were filled with sarcasm. "But Master, you must know that things differ from person to person. The Endless Forcefield may seem like a valuable treasure to one, but... for others, it will only be a disaster."

"Eh?" Rhode slowed down his pace. "You mean that this Endless Forcefield is a disaster for me?"

"Yes, Master." Gillian chuckled and replied without the slightest hesitation. "Only those who delve into the mysteries of magic wholeheartedly have the right to use the Endless Forcefield. If one doesn't qualify, it is impossible for one to earn the recognition of the Endless Forcefield. Huhuhu... Master, the reason why you gave up on the Endless Forcefield wasn't solely because you were being considerate of Miss Natasha... But you were also aware of the potential dangers, right?"

"Eh?" Rhode sensed that Gillian placed an emphasis on the word 'wholeheartedly'. Out of the blue, a joke appeared in his head. It was a hilarious rumor which spread amongst the players in the game. The player guild that secured the Endless Forcefield had once been named the 'Magicians Guild' by many players. It wasn't solely because there was an abundance of powerful Mages in the guild, but also because most of them were basically single virgins. Many players mocked them and exaggerated that these players must have also become a true magician in real life. There was another rumor that this guild was filled with a bachelor's curse and any player who joined this guild would be cursed. They would break up with their girlfriends and join the ranks of bachelors gloriously...

Initially, Rhode didn't treat this joke seriously at all. However, after being reminded by Gillian, he recalled that there were indeed players who broke up with their partners after joining that guild. Furthermore, rumor had it that the vice leader had slept with the guild leader's then-girlfriend and led to the collapse of the guild... Could it be...

Cold sweat flowed down Rhode's back. To be frank, he was eager to give getting the Endless Forcefield a shot. However, he felt that there was an uncomfortable and conflicting emotions in the bottom of his heart as Earl Tyler continued to increase the bidding price. In the end, he rose his bid once and gave up directly after witnessing Earl Tyler's determination. Now it seemed that...

It can't be... Even if the Endless Forcefield has such powers, it shouldn't affect the real world.

"Huhuhu, I guess Master, you have discovered it too, right?" Gillian noticed that Rhode was struggling in his thoughts and she placed her tiny palm by her mouth and chuckled. Rhode turned over and stared at Gillian. However, the fox-eared young lady didn't seem to take it to heart.

"But... That was in the game and not in real life?" Rhode didn't explain the details since Anne was behind them. Although Anne wouldn't be interested in their discussions with that carefree nature of hers, it was still better to be safe than sorry.

"You can put it that way, but... who knows?" Gillian gave an ambiguous answer.

The fox-eared young lady always acted this way every time Rhode questioned her about her past and the connection between the game and the real world. It was apparent that she seemed to be aware of something, but she wasn't willing to tell Rhode and Rhode didn't know why. He had once suspected that Gillian came to this world the same way he did. If not, she wouldn't have known that much about his interpersonal relationships, especially when it came to his relationship with Canary. In the game, Rhode and Canary acted normally and their companions weren't aware of their secrets. Rhode and Canary would chat privately every weekend or during holidays and fix a date for their 'activity'. Of course, Rhode had always kept quiet about this and an obedient young girl like Canary wouldn't tell anyone about it either, so it was too suspicious that Gillian was actually aware of it.

If Gillian did come to this world like Rhode did, it was strange that her behavior was totally unlike Canary and Mini Bubble Gum's. Although Canary and Mini Bubble Gum were illusionary images of Rhode's memories, their nature and memories were original. Rhode could see that they weren't too mindful of this world like him. Canary and himself treated the humans here as normal human beings while Mini Bubble Gum treated them as NPCs. On the other hand, Gillian behaved proficiently as though she was her original self. Rhode sounded her out a few times but she had always been vigilant to act naive and avoid further discussions.

As Rhode pondered these thoughts, the group arrived at the bottom of the steps and were greeted by a huge, stone door.