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539 Deep into the Mine

 Clank. The group strode into the mine and spotted half-naked, sweaty miners swinging their tools with loud bangs resounding in the rising dust. This indeed wasn't a great tourist attraction. Moreover, the hygiene conditions in this era were lagging hugely. The miners worked 24 hours a day and relieved themselves in self-dug holes. The putrid smell and mixture of body odors assailed their nostrils everywhere they went. It wasn't ridiculous to describe this place as Hell.

Emily puckered her brows while covering her nose and even Edward coughed unbearably, placing his handkerchief over his mouth. To some extent, this might be the reason why he wasn't willing to enter the mine.

Rhode and Celia remained expressionless. After all, they had experienced smells that were much more disgusting in the battlefields. Their unfazed behaviors astounded Edward, and Emily respected this 'Miss Seren' even more. 'Miss Seren' seemed extremely delicate and compared to her, Emily felt that she was more of a pampered lady, to which she felt rather awkward about.

"Sir, Miss, please be careful. The path here isn't even here."

Of course, apart from them, one of the foremen had joined their group, in charge of leading the way and describing the current situation of the mine. Compared to the sweaty, half-naked miners, the mighty, two-meter tall foreman was neatly dressed and if it weren't for his seemingly overwashed jacket, perhaps this man would have given them a refreshing feeling. At this moment, they entered deep into the silver ore mine, and he introduced to them passionately.

"We have worked here for many years. Honestly, this mine is truly a gift bestowed to us from the Gods. Currently, we can produce about..." Rhode inspected the mine shaft before them as he listened and compared them to his memories of this place. His thoughts were immersed on what Edward had mentioned. He believed that this dungeon must be one that hadn't been initiated yet and his purpose wasn't to eliminate the BOSS. Instead, it was to trigger the start of this dungeon.

Judging from the situation, there was a huge possibility that someone else had initiated the dungeon before him. After all, he was extremely familiar with Fiat. Apart from the Earth Elemental creature dungeon, there was nothing else such as a secret passageway that connected to the underground world or a strange portal that sealed the Demons and Devils. If there weren't any Earth Elemental creatures, this mine would just be an ordinary one. This was why the chances of the Earth Elemental creature being alarmed by humans were high if there were any strange situations going on.

In the game, neither of the two families were aware of its presence and they accidentally broke the seal and released the creature.

Rhode didn't believe that illogical accidents that differed from the game would happen. However, he discovered that not everything remained unchanged after the incident with the Necromancer turning into a Lich. Situations would change according to the changes in environments and choices. Perhaps the two Angels would have suffered a terrible death if Rhode hadn't led Gillian into the historical remains and the Necromancer wouldn't have transformed the Battle Angel into a phylactery instead of his Undead Spirit.

What about now?

Rhode knew that this mine was separated into two. The right side was exploited by the Edward Family while the left side was Howard's territory and sooner or later, both families would bump heads. The reason why the Earth Elemental creature had awakened was due to their conflicts that damaged its boundary. However, all these were under normal circumstances. In the game, the Reformist Party didn't declare war with the King's Party and the strength of both families were rather balanced. But now, the Reformist Party had declared war with the King's Party in this world and the Howard Trade Association's stance naturally became awkward. Moreover, the Edward Trade Association had seized the opportunity to strike them down. When Rhode arrived at Fiat, he noticed that it was completely deserted outside the Howard Trade Association entrance. It was apparent that they were put under tremendous pressure, but would the Howard Trade Association give up just that?

Rabbits bite when they're anxious too.

"Before entering here, I've heard that there was some unrest recently? I would like to know more about the situation." Rhode interrupted the foreman's words.

The foreman's expression stiffened. He peeked toward his chairman for permission and Edward shook his head hopelessly before eventually nodding in agreement. The foreman turned back and smiled awkwardly. "It's nothing much actually, Miss... Recently, everyone has heard some strange noises around the mine and those guys were somewhat worried... Heh, how huge of a problem can it be? It must have been some random sound of wind... How embarrassing to think that these burly men are as timid as mice..."

"I don't think so." Rhode twitched his brows. "If that is the truth, I don't think the miners would be that frightened, isn't it? Mister? Just like you've mentioned, the miners have been working here for many years, so surely they won't be scared of the sound of wind... I'm starting to doubt if your Edward Trade Association's silver ore extraction has made any developments over the years."

"Uh..." The foreman's expression stiffened even more now.

Edward saw that the situation was far from good and he hurriedly smooth things over. "It's like this, Miss Seren. As you've said, the miners surely wouldn't be worried if it was only the sound of wind. But... I'm not afraid of telling you that there were indeed some strange incidents which made them so frantic. That is..."

"In other words, the situation in your Trade Association isn't looking too good?" Rhode smiled, gazing into Edward's eyes while cold sweat dripped down Edward's cheeks. Edward believed that he was fortunate to negotiate business with an eye-pleasing beauty, but now, he was panic-stricken because he clearly understood the meaning behind those words. From the start, Rhode had used the reason of 'checking on the extraction operations of the silver ores'. But now, it seemed that everything had gone smoothly and it would be difficult to continue their conversation thereafter. After all, the bunch of bastards from Howard Trade Association...

"It's not that, Miss Seren. It is just..."

"-!"

Suddenly, a deep roar sounded from the deep mine. Although it wasn't loud, it resounded clearly in their eardrums through the echoes of the mine. Everyone turned forward in unison.

"W-What happened? What's that sound?" Edward puckered his brows worriedly. He hadn't been down into the mine after hearing all the strange happenings in the mine and he didn't take their words seriously. But now, he finally discovered that the situation was indeed dire. That wasn't the sound of wind. That was obviously the roar of a monster!

But this was a mine and not a forest. Why would there be a monster?

"-!"

Another bellow sounded and this time, and it was much closer. Before Edward reacted, he heard several blood-curdling screeches from nearby.

"W-What happened?" Emily shrunk her body nervously.

The deep mine shaft was exceptionally dusky under the burning flames. The private soldiers that Edward had led down with him surrounded them swiftly with their weapons, protecting their employer and guests. Edward turned toward Rhode with a bitter smile. "Miss Seren, the... the situation isn't looking too good. I think we should leave this place now and discuss later. What do you..."

"Waaaa!"

A series of miserable shrieks erupted once again. Several ashen-faced, bloody miners bolted from the other end, swinging their arms frantically. Emily screamed in fear and the private soldiers moved up to stop the fleeing miners.

"What happened?" The foreman demanded.

The miners totally disregarded the shiny sword blades before them. They looked into the pitch-black tunnel behind them and turned back around, shuddering. "Monster, Sir. There's a monster! A terrifying monster!"

"Monster?" Edward walked up to them hurriedly. "What monster? What exactly did all of you see?"

Rhode approached one of the private soldiers and drew his sword hanging on his waist. He took a step forward, pulled Emily from the tunnel wall, and brandished the sword in his right hand!

The solid tunnel wall rippled strangely like a pond of water and a pitch-black, gigantic worm struck out from within. It widened its disgusting, complex-looking mouth and hissed horrifyingly. Rhode dragged Emily to safety and pierced the monster's mouth with the sword.

A dazzling spiritual radiance erupted and the blade airflow blasted the monster far away. Its two-meter long, thick body was slashed into multiple pieces, but there was no blood. Instead, the monster puffed into a cloud of powder and vanished in the air.

"T-That is..." Edward and Emily widened their eyes at Rhode unbelievably.

They had never expected this delicate-looking lady to possess such impressive swordsmanship! Oh, Lord. That's spiritual energy... This young lady is just over 20 years old and she possesses such formidable powers... Is everyone from the Country of Light as powerful as her?

Emily looked at Rhode with glistening, admirable eyes and she had even forgotten about the dangers. Not only was 'Miss Seren' intelligent, but she also possessed exquisite and powerful swordsmanship. Ah... I didn't expect that I would meet someone like her. If I can be as powerful as her, becoming a Travel Merchant won't be a dream anymore.

"W-What is that?" Edward was apparently more concerned about the monster than Emily.

Rhode shook his head. "It seems like some kind of elemental creature. But I'm not exactly sure what it is."

Of course, this was a lie. Rhode was sure that this monster was a creature created by the Earth Elemental Spirits. But... Why did it appear here? What exactly was going on?

"Monster! Monster!"

The miners screamed at the top of their lungs and darted off after pushing the private soldiers aside.

"Don't run, be careful...!"

Before the foreman finished his sentence, strange ripples formed on both sides of the tunnel wall. Then, three weirdly-shaped worms struck out and brushed the frantic miners. The three monsters didn't give chase to their prey. Instead, they turned around and hissed at the enemies before them. On the other end of the tunnel, four to five similar monsters had emerged, hissing and surrounding Rhode's group slowly. They were trapped.

Something's wrong!

Rhode scrutinized their movements. Even though pure elemental creatures appeared alive, they could also be considered lifeless. The pure elemental creatures despised humans and would massacre every human as long as they stepped into their territory. Besides, these elemental creatures were abnormally brutal and hard to deal with. This was the reason why the mine in Fiat region was completely sealed after the Earth Elemental creature was awakened. But now, these elemental creatures had let off the miners and turned their attention on Rhode's group? There seemed to be a mismatch of their usual chaotic and straightforward battle style to their movements. Could it be...

Rhode swept a glance at the ashen-faced Edward, who was shuddering from head to toe.

Could it be that these Earth Elemental creatures are being manipulated by someone?