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540 Escape

 What exactly are these monsters?!

Even though the Earth Elemental creatures appeared large and clumsy, their movements on the ground were extremely fast. In the blink of an eye, they had arrived before the group and pounced at them.

The private soldiers who were protecting Edward's group were horrified and they brandished their swords to fend off the monsters. However, their sharp blades couldn't leave a single scar on their boulder-like surface and the private soldiers flustered to the powerful reaction force.

"Go away! Go away!"

One of the private soldiers yelled and hacked his sword at the worm-like Earth Elemental creature. Clang! The immense reaction force compelled the pitiful soldier and he tumbled to the ground. He looked up frantically and the monster lifted its upper body and widened its mouth to strike with its razor-sharp boulder teeth. "Waaa!"

It punctured the soldier's armor and ripped out bloody flesh and bones. The soldier shuddered with rolled eyes, waving his arm helplessly to escape the ordeal. The monster's sharp teeth tore his body into half and his screams stopped abruptly.

"Oh, Lord..."

Everyone looked vacantly with ashen expressions. Their knees weakened after witnessing the monster demolish his body and his blood splashed everywhere. Not only him, but the other private soldiers were also attacked by the monsters. In an instant, the tunnel was filled with the revolting smell of blood and screams that make their hair stand.

"R-Run!"

The foreman, who had promised that nothing huge would happen, turned around immediately and darted toward the exit. But a razor-sharp thorn struck out from above and punctured his fragile skull. Then, a ferocious mouth fell from the tunnel ceiling and devoured its prey in a single swallow.

"M-Miss Seren, what should we do?" Emily hid behind Rhode, shuddering and clasping his sleeves.

Emily was terrified. After all, Edward and Emily were nothing more than ordinary merchants and they had never experienced countless massacres like Rhode, so witnessing a corpse was enough to startle them. It must be a huge shock to ordinary humans who witnessed a human become a corpse before their eyes. However, Emily behaved bravely and even though she was afraid, she continued to stand firmly on the spot. On the contrary, Edward's legs had as though softened into a pile of mud, unable to move an inch.

"We have to leave this place," Rhode charged forward and brandished his sword. The Earth Elemental creature that had devoured the foreman's corpse turned to face him and pounced forward. However, Rhode was unfazed. As the creature's sharp claws were inches away from ripping his body, he leaned to the side and dodged in an undescribable gracefulness. He turned his wrist and slashed the creature into half like slicing a cream cake. The fatal blow sent the creature crashing to the ground, vanishing into filthy dust instantly.

About level 10 to 15. Something's wrong with the difficulty!

It was apparent that these Earth Elemental creatures were low in level. Although their unique properties had given them the upper hand against ordinary humans, they weren't actually powerful at all. But, this was entirely opposite with what Rhode had remembered! According to his game experience, the Earth Elemental creature should have been between the range of level 35 to 40 after it was completely awakened! But now, they actually possessed only half of their strength... The Earth Elemental Spirit hadn't been fully awakened, but it definitely wasn't in deep sleep within the seal.

What exactly is going on?

Rhode shot a look to Celia swiftly and the latter arrived at Edward's side to support and pull him to Rhode and Emily's side.

"Chairman Edward, we are gonna leave this place now. I hope you can keep up with our pace. No matter what happens, don't leave our side. Understand?"

"Ah. Oh. Okay, Miss Seren."

Edward was completely out of his wits. Perhaps he would agree to anything Rhode said to him at this point. However, Rhode wasn't in the mood for jokes. He swept a glance at the pale-faced Chairman and turned around immediately to focus his attention on the creatures that had emerged from the shadows. No one noticed the glint of excitement in Rhode's eyes. "Let's go!"

"Ss-!"

The group bolted toward the exit and two Earth Elemental creatures arched over in a towering manner, their mouths formed by sharp rocks widened ferociously. In the blink of an eye, the creatures sprung toward the group. Rhode swung the basic sword in his hand and glittering spiritual radiance streaked across the dark tunnel. The infinite light blades interwove into a large net and shattered the enemies completely.

So powerful...

Emily widened her eyes in astonishment. Rhode's attack was as though a myriad of dazzling, yet deadly meteors. The red-haired young lady had even forgotten about the threats catching up behind her. She held onto 'Miss Seren's' left arm and kept up with her quick pace. Meanwhile, Edward staggered along with Celia and the latter brandished her sword to drive away the creatures that attempted to pounce on them. The Earth Elemental creatures standing before Celia showed signs of hesitance. As the highest form of the Light Element, Celia also possessed pure Light Elemental strength and from a certain aspect, the Light Elemental composition of Celia was similar to these Earth Elemental creatures apart from their attribute properties. Even though these creatures who relied on instinct to attack could deal fatal damage to 'impure' humans, they were at a complete loss in the face of a pure Light Elemental Battle Angel who was higher in class than them.

The creatures behind weren't giving chase as tightly as before after they had witnessed Celia's threat. Everyone seized this opportunity and dashed toward the exit through the opening that Rhode had created. There was not a single person along the way and discarded tools were scattered everywhere. It seemed like the miners had gotten away immediately after hearing the commotion.

The deep, dark tunnel had as though no end to its horizon and there was not a single guide shown under the flame torches. Emily felt that she had been trapped entirely in this underground maze and all she could do was to follow 'Miss Seren' before her blindly as she supported her panting father with gritted teeth. Emily feared that the path they had chosen was incorrect. Apart from the slope that clearly meant to them that they were heading upwards, there were no other indications.

"Haa... Haa..."

Rapid breathing echoed in the mine and Emily could clearly hear the hisses from close behind her. She wanted to turn around, but she bit her lip and focused her attention before her instead. She was afraid that the creatures would pounce onto her the very instant she turned back and she would die a painful, miserable death like the private soldiers... She shivered every time the images of their deaths flashed in her mind. The darkness around her felt like a massive, terrifying creature that was about to devour her entirely...

As Emily and 'Miss Seren' ran passed the corner of the tunnel crossing, hopeful, dazzling rays of the sun shone brightly before her eyes and blinded her slightly. This was the first time that she had praised the beauty of the world from the bottom of her heart.

"Quick. We're almost there!" Rhode turned back to Emily.

The exhausted red-haired young lady's legs had almost given way beneath her. She tried her best to support her father as they reeled forward while Celia brandished her sword and calmly eradicated the relentless creatures behind her.

"...!"

At this moment, a series of roars shook the ground beneath their feet, shaking crushed rocks and dust off the ceiling. Rhode halted as a sudden ominous premonition clouded his mind.

Earthquake? No, this is...!

Boom! A burst of wind and dust exploded before him as though the tunnel wall had been smashed by a powerful force. A half-human-sized fist appeared before his face and he knew that he couldn't dodge in time. He let out a snort and positioned the sword before him swiftly.

The gigantic stone fist collided with his sword and an intense airflow erupted. The heavy collision panicked Emily and she almost threw up from the shock, while Edward lost his balance and fell to his bum instantly. Rhode pushed back the ambush and cracks revealed on the standard-issued sword blade. In the blink of an eye, the blade shattered entirely.

The gigantic, stone fist's momentum stopped after sliding over a few meters due to the intense reaction force from smashing into Rhode's sword. The fluttering dust dispersed and the obstacle revealed itself.

That was a three-meter tall, massive, human-shaped figure. It looked like a giant and its enormous body blocked the entire exit. It had short legs and long rock arms like a stone gorilla.

Stone Giant.

Rhode tossed the bladeless hilt and gazed silently at the Stone Giant. Finally, a much more threatening presence had emerged. The Stone Giant was considered one of the most troublesome presences among the Earth Elemental creatures. It had slow movements, but powerful strength. Moreover, it possessed self-restoration and increased defenses abilities in this favorable environment. Ordinary fighters couldn't match up against such a creature at all.

But Rhode wasn't any ordinary fighter.

"W-What is that? Miss Seren?"

"I'm not too sure, Miss Emily," Rhode answered without turning around.

He slid his right hand into his pocket and grabbed the hidden dagger calmly. After all, he had faced much more ridiculous setbacks in the game and this typical BOSS appearance in the final stages of an escape was nothing out of the ordinary. "I will try my best to attract its attention, Miss Emily. Please use this chance to leave with Chairman Edward."

"B-But, what about you? Miss Seren?"

"Don't worry about me, Miss Emily. I will leave immediately after you guys have left safely. I'll handle this monster by myself just fine... I guess you understand what I mean."

"..." Emily didn't answer immediately. "I understand, Miss Seren. Don't worry, I will try my best."

"Good, Miss Emily. Don't forget about the story that I told you that night."

Rhode smiled at Emily and turned toward the Stone Giant, squinting and raising his right arm.

Madaras answered his calling.

"-!"

The Stone Giant sensed the threat emanating from the weapon on the tiny human's hand. As a pure elemental creature, it was sharply sensitive to anything that interfered with magical aura. Madaras came equipped with 15% magical immunity and it was like a natural enemy to the Stone Giant. It bellowed in rage and stepped forward, swinging its clenched left fist.

Shing! Rhode sprung forward and welcomed the attack with his dagger fearlessly. The spiritual radiance glinted on its striking blade like a dazzling meteor streaking across the sky.

Boom! The unbearably loud collision felt like a huge hammer crushing into their chests and this was only the beginning. Rhode withdrew his dagger and in the blink of an eye, the dagger transformed and split into countless blade rays, devouring the Stone Giant's fist. Violent gales burst out from the impact and the powerful explosion shook the entire mine.

Rhode didn't attack using a skill. Instead, it was an attack using his Master Stage level spiritual energy and the Stone Giant definitely couldn't withstand it no matter how valiant it was. Moreover, Rhode's lineage wasn't human and his strength was much higher than the ordinary human race. The impact crumpled the Stone Giant's left arm and it flinched a few steps backward and revealed an opening. "Now's the chance, Miss Emily!!"

Emily grabbed her father's arm and ran toward the opening while Edward gritted his teeth and keep up as closely as possible. He was panting hard, but his desire for survival pushed his heavy feet forward.

The Stone Giant didn't notice Emily and Edward at all as it fully focused its attention on Rhode. As an elemental creature without senses, losing an arm meant nothing to it. The Stone Giant raised its other available arm and struck toward Rhode with all its might. This time, Rhode didn't face it head-on. Instead, he rolled to the side and dodged, gesturing to Celia to escort Emily and Edward to the exit. Celia felt rather astonished by his decision, but she didn't question it. She sheathed her weapon and dashed toward them.

The Stone Giant hurled another punch toward Rhode.

It's about time.

Rhode twitched his brows slightly after glancing at Emily, Edward, and Celia's position. He rolled away from its attack and shot for its body. Madaras emanated an incredible spiritual radiance and punctured its body deeply.

"-!"

A deep, ear-deafening roar echoed in the mine, numbing Rhode's ears. A bright radiance erupted from its eyes and the entire mine began to shake violently along with its transformation. Shortly after, large rocks fell from the ceiling and flew toward the Stone Giant.

"Waa!"

Emily hid from the flying rocks, but Edward had been struck. He shrieked painfully and tumbled down the tunnel slope like a rolling gourd.

"Father!"

"Mr. Edward!"

Emily cried out frantically and Celia reached out for his arm as quickly as she could. However, at this moment, Rhode shot a look at Celia and her movements halted subtly. Her fingers had almost grabbed onto Edward's arm. She watched helplessly as he rolled down the tunnel toward the Earth Elemental creature.