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837 Tinder 3

 It was an ancient key, but despite its long years of existence, it seemed as though it was well-maintained. Rhode gazed silently at the key with knitted brows. Then, the little girl pointed to the stairs leading to the highest point of the refuge where a sealed metallic circular door stood.

"Follow me."

The little girl said. She turned around and headed toward the stairs. Rhode's group ascended the stairs under her lead. Unlike the other areas, there weren't any buildings in sight on both sides. On the other hand, in the distance ahead was a flat plaza and a circular metallic door embedded on the wall. It seemed like the same door as the one they saw when they entered the refuge.

This old fella has it all planned out.

"As long as you defeat all the creatures inside, the elder will hand over the coordinates."

The little girl didn't seem to like speaking. After telling Rhode the conditions, she stepped aside instantly. However, Rhode didn't agree just yet. On the contrary, he sized up the little girl curiously and made her pale and nervous. When she bit her lip and was about to speak, Rhode shifted his gaze to the door. Then, he ordered.

"Lize, Marlene, Anne, follow me. Gillian, I'll leave the rest to you. Remember. If we don't return after one hour, destroy this refuge completely!"

"Got it, Master. You can count on me."

Gillian snapped her fingers and raised her right arm. Then, a scarlet flame column burst into the sky with her in the center. The flames turned into waves that blazed and spread throughout the arc-shaped ceiling. This sudden phenomenon caused an uproar among the residents with many fleeing and peering at the dazzling flames that merged into the shape of a clock. Although the second hand on the clock ticked slowly, the pressurize was massive for them.

"Mr. Rhode..."

Lize gazed at the little girl awkwardly, but it seemed like the latter wasn't too concerned. However, Lize felt that it was too rude of Rhode. No matter what, didn't the other party agree to hand over the coordinates? It wouldn't be too nice to do this, right?

"I'm going to check on the situation inside. You girls will stand guard here."

"Yes, Mr. Rhode."

Rhode turned a deaf ear to Lize's concerns while Marlene gazed at the panicky residents helplessly. The previous encounter with the little boy made her realize that the 'rules' that she was familiar with weren't applicable in this place. Indeed, such brazen threats from Rhode definitely wouldn't be welcomed if they were in another place. But in here... It seemed like Rhode was familiar with the situation, so she was better off leaving it to him.

"Good."

Rhode nodded before taking the ancient key from the little girl and slotting it into the door.

Click...

Rhode turned the key and the metal railing used to seal the door shifted while the metal disc rotated slowly. The shackles that were originally aligned with each other loosened and the metallic door opened, revealing a deep, huge tunnel before them. But what surprised them was that the tunnel wasn't completely dark. Instead, faint radiances from both sides of the wall extended into the depths as though they existed to guide their path.

"Anne, come with me."

Rhode gestured and entered the tunnel. Anne responded excitedly and waved goodbye to Lize and Marlene proudly with her chest perked out. Marlene and Lize watched them with complicated emotions and the latter let out a long sigh after they disappeared into the tunnel.

"Marlene..."

"Hmm?"

"Should we... practice some sword skills...?"

"... Even if we practice, we probably won't reach Anne's standard..."

"That's true..."

They gazed at each other before letting out a sigh in unison.

"Sigh..."

Rhode scanned his surroundings solemnly despite placing his hands on his back nonchalantly. Shortly after, the magical radiance from the back of his right hand shone and formed a large brilliant ritual. Then, summoning cards emerged one by one: Celia, Celestina, Snow, and the Hell Hound. Rhode swung his arm and the dazzling magical radiance in his hand extracted the shadows to form a pitch-black sword in his hand.

"Leader, are the enemies strong?"

Anne asked. Although she strolled casually, her gaze was incredibly serious. In terms of battle, Anne's instincts were much sharper than the veteran players like Mini Bubble Gum and Canary. It was imaginable how she could become stronger than Rhode when she entered the Legendary Stage in the future.

"It will be rather troublesome, so I need your help."

Rhode answered softly.

"I left Gracier and Madaras outside. I can only rely on you here, Anne. I will attract the BOSS's attention later and I need you to retrieve the core for me."

"Core?"

Anne asked curiously. Then, Rhode nodded.

"Yes, it is the core that is contaminated by Chaos. In simpler terms, the core existed to strengthen the refuge's defense against the Chaos. But it may have possibly turned into a channel for the Chaos, which explains the reason why they sealed this place up. What we need to do is to purify it, so the refuge can regain the strength to deal with the Chaos."

Rhode paused. The core of the refuge was like a system firewall against viruses. It would filter and eliminate harmful viruses to ensure that the refuge was safe. Therefore, not just anyone could enter this protected place. After hearing from the little girl about the elder's request, Rhode had no choice but to hold back on the idea of slaughtering everyone here. After all, it was easier for him to eradicate the creatures than them.

However, Rhode was also aware that the elder harbored ill intentions. Normally, the corrupted core would only react when someone approached. The level limit of the Chaos Creatures that it summoned would be in accordance to the enemy with the highest level. This was the reason why Rhode left the rest outside because they wouldn't be able to deal with the Chaos Creatures if their strength was based on his level. He brought them here only to familiarize them with the characteristics of the Land of Chaos and didn't mean to send them to their death.

Since Rhode might be able to purify the core, the elder wouldn't let this chance slip as there would at least be a guarantee to the refuge's safety. If Rhode failed, his men would be in dire straits and might even perish in this place while the refuge would still be in safe hands...

The older, the wiser indeed.

The reason why he brought Anne along was that she held a shield that was immune to the corrosion of Chaos. Judging from this, Anne was much more 'invincible' than Rhode.

After briefly explaining to Anne that they were about to face a BOSS, they reached the end of the tunnel and arrived at a wide circular hall. Judging from the layer of filthy dust above the decorations, it could be seen that this was once a luxurious place. But now, there were only faint radiances and a dark sphere floating in midair.

Rhode clutched his sword and took a step forward.

"---!"

Suddenly, the dark sphere bulged and spurted dark liquid from within which shrouded half the hall.

Then, the dark liquid coalesced and formed individuals one by one.