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575 Lapis Conundrum

 The Holy Griffin expanded its wings and dove down with its extended razor-sharp claws. Clang! A sword emerged in Rhode's hand and he struck off the Holy Griffin's attack. It bellowed fiercely and sprung backward, at the same time, lashing its long tail forward. Rhode waved his sword and drew a mysterious arc in the air to sweep the attack away. Then, he brandished forward and a spiritual blade ray struck the Holy Griffin. The powerful impact propelled it to the ground, but it quickly flipped over and regained its stance.

\"Not bad.\" Rhode nodded in satisfaction.

Of course, he didn't intend to pull out all the stops against the Holy Griffin. If he did that, the Holy Griffin would surely turn into worthless trash instantly. However, this didn't mean that it wasn't powerful. Instead, it was because Rhode was too strong. If the Holy Griffin was able to keep Rhode busy for a long time, it would mean that it possessed at least the strength of the Master Stage. However, even Lapis wasn't capable of creating such a high standard Construct.

Rhode had figured out the basic functionalities of this Stone Construct. It had high defense and there weren't any signs of damage from Rhode's strikes. Not only that, but it also had high flexibility to climb to its feet instantly after collapsing to the ground. Although it had a body made of stone, it was as nimble as a living being. Alchemy was a truly mystical thing.

The Holy Griffin's strength was between level 25 to 30 and it alone definitely couldn't threaten the Undead Army at all. Low-level alchemic creatures like the Holy Griffin needed to form groups in order to pose a threat. Rhode compared this Holy Griffin to the air troops of the Country of Darkness. No matter if it was the Gargoyle of the Bone Falcon, they weren't individually powerful and the Gargoyle was at most level 20. However, due to the unique Undead Alchemy of the Country of Darkness, they would have the upper hand against the Holy Griffins.

But there were also disadvantages. The material used to create these Gargoyles were ordinary and crude while the Holy Griffins that Lapis had created used first-rate rocks. Due to this reason, the Gargoyle had horrible defenses where Archers that had entered into the Elite Stage could easily eliminate them.

On the contrary, the Bone Falcon didn't have physical bodies and were more of spiritual presences. The Bone Falcons were also the best scouts for the Undead Army where they could conceal themselves using their almost transparent bodies. Besides that, the unusual connection between the Undead Creatures and the Undead Mages could allow the Undead Mages to receive intelligence as though through a scanning radar. Not only that, but the Bone Falcons' attribute could also allow them to ignore physical attacks where they would only be damaged by magical attacks and equipment.

Due to this unique feature, the Bone Falcon was considered one of the higher-tier troops in the Undead Army. As they weren't as easy to create as the Gargoyle, only the Generals and Commanders held the rights to use them.

If Rhode were to compare them to airplanes, the Gargoyle would be a fighter plane while the Bone Falcon would be a spy plane. If the Holy Griffin could be mass-produced, Rhode wouldn't have a problem against the Gargoyles. However, it was still too difficult for the Holy Griffin's current attacking form to gain the upper hand against the Bone Falcons.

\"Are there no other ways for them to be equipped with elemental attributes?\" said Rhode.

\"Sorry, Sir Rhode...\" Lapis lowered her head. \"The powers of these Soul Cores were too weak. I've tried my best to make it move on its own and it consumed all the powers of the Soul Core...\"

\"I understand, it's not your fault.\" Rhode patted her shoulder and he realized that this young lady had changed a lot. Although Lapis wasn't a beauty like Marlene, Gillian, or Celestina, she was still a lovely young lady. But now, Rhode could only see her haggard face. Perhaps due to overworking, Lapis' pale skin had become deathly pale and her cheeks had become thinner. Moreover, there were obvious, bruised dark circles under her eyes. Although Lapis had covered them up using makeup, she couldn't cover the fatigue on her face.

Rhode let out a sigh inwardly. He had been out for so many days and he had shown the least concern for this Alchemy Elf before him. Lapis had a reserved personality and usually wouldn't speak much. Moreover, she seldom took initiatives and often only heed orders from Rhode. Even when she faced difficulties, she seldom spoke about them too. Although Lapis didn't mention, Rhode could read from her beaten face. She must have suffered a lot for completing the mission that Rhode had given her. Although her head was filled with the alchemy knowledge of the Behermes and she possessed the abilities of an Alchemist Master, even the top scientists couldn't fiddle with the nuclear reactor unarmed. Lapis had been really busy because of Rhode and Starlight and not for herself.

There weren't any mining players providing materials in this world and Rhode had a hard time spending money to purchase alchemic materials. Starlight had also just been established and wasn't wealthy, so it wasn't possible for him to splurge. After all, apart from spending on Lapis' research and creation, maintaining this large guild also required a huge sum of money. Although Starlight had a stable income through the collaboration with the Silver Libra and the mine excavation sold to the Keller Family, the amount of gold was merely enough to maintain the guild and fortress. Moreover, there were many instances where Lapis couldn't purchase the materials that she needed even when there was sufficient money and she had to make do with what she had. As for the materials to create the Holy Griffins, Rhode didn't purchase them. Instead, they were retrieved from the Keller Family through their mining agreement.

\"Lapis,\" Rhode said and she lifted her head hurriedly. \"That's all for today. We will be having a feast tonight and everyone including you must participate. From today onward, temporarily leave the tasks on your hands and have a break.\"

\"B-But, Sir...\" Lapis widened her eyes in uncertainty. \"We finally managed to... What if...\"

\"Don't worry, we're not in that much of a hurry and your health is more important. Although I know that you're an Alchemist Master and you have a way to monitor your health condition, it won't be good for your mental health for living in an overly tense life. From today onward, take a break for a while.\"

It wasn't unreasonable for Rhode to say this. Although Lapis was an expert in alchemy, she couldn't possibly torment herself all day. Even though she might be enjoying it, her health would surely take a toll. Rhode didn't understand the difference between an Alchemy Elf and a normal human being, but overexhaustion was never great for no matter what race. Besides, as one of Starlight's most important members, Rhode didn't wish to squeeze her dry.

Lapis lowered her head and her cheeks flushed. Then, she nodded slightly. \"Okay, Sir Rhode.\"

At this moment, there was some screaming outside the workshop. Rhode knitted his brows and Lapis took two steps back in fear while Christie tugged onto Rhode's sleeve and gazed at the door worriedly.

Suddenly, Anne's voice sounded. \"Who are you people? What are you doing here? Leave right now, or don't blame me for whatever happens to you!\"

Christie shivered and muttered softly. \"Again...\"

\"Again?\" Rhode sulked and turned to Lapis. \"What's going on? Did those people caused trouble here before?\"

\"This was what happened, Sir Rhode.\" Lapis hesitated for a moment before answering with stutters. \"After you left, a group of people came to the Fortress... I don't know where they heard about me concocting potions for the guild and what they want to do... But I heard from the Ocean Elves that they...\" Lapis paused awkwardly.

Rhode frowned and focused his attention on the words that Lapis had said. \"When was the last time they came to the Fortress?\"

\"About more than a month ago...\"

\"Did they enter the alchemy workshop?\"

\"N-No, Sir Rhode. Thanks to the mercenaries that you arranged for protection, those people didn't manage to enter the alchemy workshop. But they haven't seemed to give up yet...\"

\"Did you inform Bubble and Canary?\"

Rhode had always been the one headhunting and he didn't expect that there would be people coming to his turf to snatch his precious men. They must be sick of living! After hearing Rhode's question, Lapis hesitated for a moment and shook her head hopelessly. \"Miss Bubble and Miss Canary have been busy and besides, those people only occasionally cause a fuss and didn't do anything... So...\"

Bam! A loud explosion boomed and Rhode swept a glance to Lapis and Christie before heading for the workshop exit. Shortly after, Rhode saw Anne furiously standing in the middle of the empty. She smashed her steel shield on the ground and created a large hole in the ground. Standing before her was a dozen men looking at her with disdain. Rhode narrowed his eyes. Those people weren't wearing mercenary leather armor. Instead, they were clad in a red and white striped uniform.

Could it be that these guys...

Rhode walked toward Anne slowly. \"Anne, what happened?\"

\"Ah, Leader, you're finally here!\" Anne turned to Rhode hurriedly and pointed angrily at the men before her. \"Those people are so annoying! Anne has followed Leader's instruction to stand guard at this place so nobody can enter. But these people forced their way through here. Anne didn't allow them to enter and those bastards say that we're a bunch of barbarians... Anne is furious!!\"

Rhode turned to face the group of men. Then, he let out a snort and lifted his chin. \"How interesting. When did the Alchemist Association learn to headhunt like a bunch of sneaky thieves?\"

\"You -!\" Two of the men were about to point at Rhode with their fingers and suddenly, a skinny middle-aged man who appeared to be their leader extended his arm to stop them. He wore a golden-framed spectacle and his thin long face resembled that of a disgusting smirking wolf. The man let out a sneer and stepped forward leisurely with his hands behind his back. He lifted his chin and looked at Rhode in contempt. \"So, you're the leader of these mercenaries? Young man? You seem much easier to handle than your barbaric men. Since you're aware of who we are, then I can tell you frankly... We, Alchemist Association, thinks that the Alchemist concocting potions for your guild is a wanted criminal who has escaped from our association. Therefore, I, in the name of the Alchemist Association, ask that you hand the person over immediately!\"

Criminal?

Rhode squinted and scanned the man before him. \"Alright then, you mentioned that my man has committed a crime. I do want to hear what crime was it exactly.\"

\"You don't have the rights to know about this.\" The man sulked instantly and let out a burst of strange laughter. \"Anyway, we have sufficient evidence to prove it. Now, I request that you hand over the person immediately, Young Man. I guess you're also clear of the consequences for going against us, the Alchemist Association. If you insisted on not handing the person over, we will find the overlord for assistance and they will dispatch garrisons to capture the criminal... I think, as a guild Leader, you don't wish to end in that predicament, right?\"

\"Scram,\" a deep voice echoed in his ears.

A shimmering radiance flashed before the man's eyes and a roaring storm that rose from the ground struck his body like an iron hammer. He flung to the back like a ragdoll and crashed heavily on the ground. As he lifted his head miserably, a shadow flitted by and Rhode emerged beside him. Then, an ice-cold, pitch-black sword blade pressed against his neck. \"I shall gracefully grant you three minutes to get out of my Fortress,\" Rhode said with a calm expression and tone. \"I don't care who you are. You're still nowhere near to behave atrociously in the Land of Atonement. Leave. Right now.\"

The man gulped his saliva and glared at Rhode with gritted teeth. \"... And what if we don't?\"

The corner of Rhode's mouth twitched. \"Then... all of you will stay here forever.\"