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541 Deep Underground

 Edward crushed into the wall heavily. He hadn't given up all hope yet. Even though his head was spinning, the hisses around him made his hair stand. He instinctively jumped onto his feet to escape, but an excruciating pain came through from his right leg. Then, an immense strength hauled him back. "No!! Help m-"

The screams came to an abrupt end.

"Father!"

Emily had as though forgotten about the dangerous situation that she was in. She gazed blankly at the tunnel and a violent gust of wind blowing against her ear dragged her back to reality.

Boom! The Stone Giant crashed to the ground and its gigantic body had been severed by a dozen blade marks. Although the Stone Giant could absorb the surrounding rocks to repair its body, its self-restoration ability was too weak in the face of Rhode's wild attack. "Be careful, Miss Emily!"

"Eh? Ah...!" Emily looked up, frightened.

At this moment, the 'paralyzed' Stone Giant had turned its attention toward her. The magical radiance in its two eyes flickered brightly from the dark tunnel. Emily froze to the spot and this was exactly the instinctive response when a life was confronted with danger. In this instant, Emily had never felt this clear-headed. The time around her had as though slowed down incredibly. She witnessed the horrifying creature widening its mouth and bellowed at her. It extended its right arm and the gravel hovering around its arm merged into it. Then, it blasted forward.

Clang! A shadow emerged beside Emily and rolled away with her to dodge the Stone Giant's attack. The ice-cold, solid punch brushed the top of her head and the engulfing air pressure swept her fiery long hair. 'Miss Seren's' voice sounded in her ears. She looked up and 'Miss Seren' had hacked into the Stone Giant's head, and she retreated swiftly to her side. Without speaking a word, Rhode carried Emily in his arm and darted into another tunnel. Shortly after, Emily spotted a glaring radiance flash across them, along with ear-deafening roars and rolling dust striking her face...

"Argh..."

After a while, Emily regained her senses and it was pure darkness before her.

"You're awake?" Rhode asked.

"Argh... Where am..." Emily turned to the voice.

'Miss Seren' sat beside her while she leaned on the tunnel wall. The coldness on the rock wall spread through her thin clothes and woke her up entirely with a shudder. "This is... I..."

"We're still in the mine, Miss Emily," Rhode said with a smile.

He patted off the filthy dust on his body and stood up to scrutinize the blocked tunnel exit. After dealing a fatal blow to the Stone Giant, it had chosen to self-destruct. However, Rhode had seen through this possibility and he carried Emily into another tunnel to decline its 'fervent invitation' to end in mutual destruction. Although the might of the Stone Giant's self-destruction was powerful, it was too hard for a level 30 creature to harm a Swordsman who had truly entered the Master Stage. On the contrary, Emily had fainted after she crashed into the wall from the explosion.

But even though both of them weren't gravely injured, the explosion had left them in huge trouble because the fragile tunnel wasn't as fortunate. The Stone Giant's self-destruction had entirely buried the tunnel entrance and a portion of the main tunnel collapsed. It was no longer possible to exit through the original route. In other words, they were trapped in the mine.

"So... Miss Seren, what should we do?" Emily asked in a shaky tone after listening to Rhode's explanations.

Rhode pondered for a few moments and said, "It's simple, Miss Emily. We can continue to head down and search for another exit. It has been completely blocked off here and I believe that even though the people outside will be trying to rescue us, they won't succeed in a short period of time. There will usually be a few emergency escape routes in the mine for the miners to flee from swiftly. I think that we're better off searching for exits instead of resigning to our fates."

"But..." Emily said with a distressed look. "The mine is so complicated. What if we get lost... And those creatures..."

"I've been to many different mines and I do know a thing or two about mine structures so I don't think it will be a huge problem. As for the creatures... I've searched around before you woke up and it seems that they are equally frightened and have left here. So, don't worry, Miss Emily. If anything were to happen..." Rhode kneeled down and held Emily's hands into his. "I will protect you, Miss Emily."

"..." Emily gazed in astonishment. "Miss Seren... How do you remain this calm?"

"As a Travel Merchant, this isn't the first time that I've faced such a similar emergency situation," Rhode's expression gloomed. He lowered his head and released Emily's hands, which made her feel somewhat regretful and disappointed because she felt as though she had lost a reliable support that she had been looking for for a long time. "I'm sorry, Miss Emily. I never expected that there would be such ferocious creatures here. If I noticed it earlier, your esteemed father wouldn't be..."

"..." Emily fell into silence. She refused to recall what had happened. However, Rhode's words harshly dragged her back to reality. That's right. She was here because this 'Miss Seren' had insisted to check on the situation after hearing about the rumors. She and her father entered the mine with 'Miss Seren' and they faced such an incident. Now, her father had died, while she was trapped in this dark underground mine, unsure if she could live to see the light.

Emily clenched her fists and bit her lips so hard that bleed a little. She had never thought that it would be this easy to part with someone so dear forever. Her father who was just with her moments ago had left the world for eternity and she had never predicted that she would fall into this crisis. Emily thought that she was dreaming. She was still sipping on the hot red tea in the breezy morning, savoring the delicious cakes, longing to be a successful Travel Merchant. But now, she was stained with mud and trapped in this filthy, pitch-dark underground. Emily realized for the first time how easily a serene and peaceful life could be destroyed just like that.

"No... This isn't your fault, Miss Seren." Emily calmed down gradually and shook her head. The pain of losing her kin continued to haunt her. Although this young lady before her was indeed the main culprit who had caused the death of her father and landed her into this plight, Emily believed that she didn't do it intentionally. Besides...

"It was us who were too careless and negligent. Sorry, Miss Seren. In fact, Father has heard about the strange happenings going on in the mine a few days back, but he didn't send anyone to investigate the cause. If we carried out investigations promptly, perhaps this wouldn't have happened..."

"There are no ifs in this world, Miss Emily." Rhode's calm voice sounded. "No one can change the past and the only thing we can do now is to not let down the things that have happened. We pay a huge price for our mistakes, but we also learn from them so we won't commit the same mistake... Lift up your head, Miss Emily."

"..." Emily lifted her head and gazed at the beautiful face before her.

Even though they were in a dusky tunnel, 'Miss Seren's' face calmed her down as though her presence had turned the darkness into nothing terrifying at all. She nodded with might and wiped the tears rolling down her cheeks. She stood to her feet and displayed a stiff smile. "Sorry to make you worry for me, Miss Seren. Let's get on the way... If not, the creatures will be back."

"It's great that you think of it this way, Miss Emily." Rhode nodded and displayed a comforting and gentle smile. He turned around and let go of the dagger hilt hidden in his skirt. "Let's go."

All the paths in the underground mine were as complex as Emily had mentioned. The miners excavated this place like mice in search of wealth hidden in the soil and dug out multiple tunnels. Some of the tunnels were interconnected while some led to dead ends. Even miners were unsure of the exact number of tunnels that they had excavated. However, this wasn't a problem for Rhode. Before the Stone Giant had self-destructed, Rhode chose this tunnel as he knew it would lead them to a path where the Earth Elemental seal was. Of course, Rhode had his fair share of dizziness when he first entered this mine and lost his way for a long time. However, he knew every single tunnel underneath Fiat at his fingertips after clearing this dungeon several times with his group. He could identify which tunnel would lead to dead ends, treasure chests, hidden BOSSes, and rare Elites. After all, the 'Walking Library' had a deserved reputation.

Of course, Rhode couldn't act like it was a walk in the park in front of Emily. After all, the excavation of mine followed many conditions and rules. It would be too suspicious if an outsider like Rhode was familiar with a mine that he had entered for the first time.

Before the Stone Giant self-destructed, Rhode had sent Celia out of the mine. With Celia and Celestina around, he wasn't worried that he would miss out on any first-hand information. In fact, Rhode had communicated with Celia while Emily was still unconscious and the Battle Angel informed him that the explosion had blocked off the tunnel completely. The Edward Trade Association had also dispatched members to check on the situation and according to the miners, the intense explosion had caused the mine to become oddly fragile. The miners outside would take a long time before they could clear the blocked tunnel and rescue them. This was exactly what Rhode needed. If not, why would he even need to put up such a show with his abilities?

And now, his mission was about to be accomplished. The mine had been sealed off and the Chairman of Edward Trade Association was a goner. It would take a while before Emily recovered from her shock fully even though she had accepted her fate. Granted that they finally settled all these troubles, perhaps the outcome of the war between the King's Party and Reformist Party had been decided. This was a great sign for Rhode. But he couldn't let down his guard yet because he had a much more important problem to resolve, and that was who exactly 'awakened' the Earth Elemental Spirit.

As a player, Rhode knew about the sealed Earth Elemental Spirit underneath Fiat. However, the aborigines had no inkling at all and it was impossible for them to learn about anything regarding the underground creature. If not, Edward would've done something as soon as he heard about the strange happenings in the mine. The Earth Elemental Spirit wouldn't awake by itself and Rhode knew how strong the seal was. It was as strong as a safe and unless one deliberately crowbarred it open, there were no other ways to unlock it. If one were to say that the seal had loosened itself... Even ghosts wouldn't believe it.

Rhode refused to believe that this was coincidental. He wished to find out the hidden truth about who exactly awakened the Earth Elemental Spirit and the person's motive.

Both of them walked in the complicated underground maze slowly, their footsteps echoing in the quiet tunnel. The creatures that launched attacks on them had disappeared to nowhere as though they never existed. Emily followed closely and tugged onto Rhode's sleeves. She wasn't as nervous as before, but she felt a little giddy after spinning around the similar-looking tunnels...

"Miss Seren? What are we..." Emily broke the silence when Rhode halted and scanned the surroundings.

At this moment, Rhode cupped over her mouth swiftly and both of them stuck closely to the rock wall. Emily heard a sound coming from the other end of the silent tunnel. That was a human voice.

Emily widened her eyes in bewilderment.

Was someone else here apart from them?