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982 Remote Specter

 The dark underground maze was as dangerous and arduous as ever.

A dozen magical missiles flew across the air, critically bombarding the Golem Puppets in dazzling radiance. Their twisted metal body creaked before crumpling to the ground lifelessly. At this moment, the young lady put her hand down, letting out a sigh of relief. The group of apprentices around her slumped to the ground.

"Is everyone alright?"

Adella asked, turning to her schoolmates. On the other hand, a brown-haired young lady with a ponytail shook her head.

"Everyone is exhausted, Adella."

"Alright, let's have a break, but do watch your surroundings. Don't touch anything strange or wander off alone, got it? I don't want this to happen again..." Adella seemed frustrated. She clutched the magic staff, gnashing her teeth. This was the first time the apprentices explored the Deepest Labyrinth. The adventure started off smoothly and although they lacked battle experience, they were elites of the Mage Tower after all, and their powerful abilities compensated for it. Besides, the successful journey across the Enchanted Forest gave them confidence and they cleared the first few floors of the Deepest Labyrinth almost effortlessly.

But shortly after, they paid the price with their naivety.

In the pitch-black underground, there was no distinction between day and night. An experienced adventurer like Rhode knew to automatically calculate time and ensure the normal operation of his body clock. But the apprentices weren't aware of it. They relied on their instincts, taking breaks when they were exhausted and continuing with their journey after resting. Nothing exciting happened in the beginning but they slowly felt unfocused as they ventured deeper. As a result... they paid a huge price for their ignorance.

Adella would recall that depressing scene whenever she closed her eyes: the ice-cold, bloody corpse that made her unable to consume any food. Their passion for this adventure was replaced by immense fear. If it weren't for their drive as elites, they would have given up and headed back to the surface.

But now, they were almost at their limits too...

"Sigh..."

Adella slid down the wall on her back and sat on the ground slowly, rubbing her throbbing forehead. The creatures were getting increasingly stronger as they went deeper into the underground, just like the terrifying Golem Puppet they faced a minute ago. Not only was it huge and strong, but it also had high magical resistance. If it weren't for Frey who tanked its attack, the three of them couldn't have possibly defeated it. They were only on the fifth floor. If they went deeper... Wouldn't they face even more terrifying creatures? Would they be able to survive and defeat them?

"Frey, any news on Richard and the others?"

The ponytailed young lady shook her head in response to her team leader.

"No. I've tried contacting him using the magic crystal but there is no news. But I think they should be safe."

"I hope so..."

Adella let out a long sigh, before biting and forcing the ration down her throat. Even though her stomach was growling with hunger, she had poor appetite after the lack of rest over the past few days. She felt her head spinning and was unable to focus at all. As soon as she felt the ration went down her throat, she had the urge to vomit. Shortly after, she put away the ration and stood to her feet using the support of the wall. But at this moment, she noticed one of her team members standing in front of the Golem Puppet's corpse and observing curiously.

"Clark, what are you doing! Get away from there, we don't know if that thing has been destroyed completely yet!"

Adella yelled, sensing instinctively that something was amiss. The young mage named Clark turned around and waved his hand at her.

"It's fine, Adella, I'm just checking on its condition. Don't worry, I don't feel any magic undulation from it!" The young mage tapped lightly on the Golem Puppet's shell. What should have been an ordinary action turned out otherwise.

"---!"

Suddenly the lifeless metal puppet emanated a faint magical radiance, startling the apprentices. Adella's heart sank immediately, running forward in large strides to stop the troublemaker who stood on the spot in disbelief. At the same time, an unprecedented magic ritual appeared in midair and before the apprentices reacted, the solid ground beneath their feet crumbled, collapsing like broken blocks and revealing a mysterious dark hole.

Gusts of wind whistled along with the horrified screams as they fell through the void. All Adella could do was to release a spell that would decrease fall damage. But the spell didn't work out as she expected perhaps due to the exhaustion from previous battles. She felt her body lighten only for a split second, before being pulled down by the powerful force of gravity once again. Before she realized, the severe pain from the crash on her back struck her into a coma.

"Argh..."

When she woke up, she found herself in a dark, blurry place. She struggled to sit herself up, shaking her head to lessen the giddiness. Then, she groaned to the tremendous pain on the back of her head and at this moment, she heard a familiar voice.

"Adella, you're alive! I'm so glad!"

"Frey? What..."

Adella turned around hurriedly and saw her best friend with her uniform covered in filth and blood. Adella's heart sank and she had a bad hunch.

"How are the rest doing?"

"..."

Frey lowered her head silently. Then, after a few moments she answered helplessly.

"We lost two and there are only five of us left. Dina and Elijah are still alive... but Clark's legs are broken. Elijah tried to treat his injuries but... we did our best. Perhaps Clark..."

Frey didn't continue his sentence but Adella understood what she meant. Adella gnashed her teeth in frustration. She had lost half her team and to make things worse, Clark's legs were also broken. The remaining apprentices couldn't possibly continue the journey carrying him around. Even though Elijah was a male mage, he specialized in summoning and was a few years younger than Clark. He didn't have the strength to carry him at all. Do I really have to abandon him? No, there doesn't seem to be any options. Even if we bring Clark along, will we be able to reach the tenth floor in this state?

"... I've made up my mind, Frey."

Adella gnashed her teeth, before saying unwillingly.

"I've decided to give up. Let's head back using the teleport crystal."

"Adella..."

Frey looked at her blankly. Of course, she knew how hard it was for Adella to make this decision. The main reason why they suffered through the hardships and came this far was because they would be prohibited from participating in another apprentice test over the next decade if they gave up this test. That would be devastating for them. If they couldn't 'graduate', their abilities couldn't be taken to the next level. Also, who would be willing to waste another 10 years?

"Alright then..."

Thud... Thud... Thud...

Suddenly, they heard the sound of footsteps from the other end of the dark corridor. The two young ladies exchanged frightened glances, stood up hurriedly, and beckoned to their teammates to stay grouped. Then, they stared alertly at the dark corridor. Those sounded like the footsteps of a human. Could it be that there are other people around? Or are they members of another team?

The footsteps became louder. The apprentices waited tensely. Then, they saw a slender figure walking out of the darkness.

Pitch-black long hair, bat-like wings, a swinging, slender tail, and a luxurious dress...

"What? Master asked me to check things out. It is actually you people?"

Celestina twitched her brow and remarked with disinterest. The apprentices widened their eyes in disbelief.

"Demon!"

Frey snarled and stepped ahead of the group with the magic spear pointing ahead. She stared at Celestina's every movement, her hands soaking in sweat completely. As a mage, they might not be familiar with maze adventures and whatnot. But they weren't unfamiliar with demons at all. Besides, this demon looked like a high-class one!

"Adella, activate the teleport crystal and escape with the rest. I will guard the rear!"

"Trying to leave? How dare you lowly humans behave so arrogantly before me. Did I say that you could leave?!"

Celestina erected her brows. She looked down upon humans, to begin with, and if it weren't for Rhode to get her to check out the situation, she wouldn't even care about them. And now, not only was this group of humans ungrateful, but they were also trying to escape? How dare these lowly humans ignore my presence! They're asking for death!

Celestina growled and unleashed a thorn whip from her sleeve, lashing heavily at Frey. Frey held the spear with her right hand, her left gesticulating in midair. Shortly after, a magical barrier appeared before her and deflected the ambush. Celestina let out an outburst of anger.

"How dare you!"

Celestina swung her arm and whipped the powerful thorn whip again, pounding on the magical barrier. The powerful force left Frey gnashing her teeth, pushing her a few steps back. But even so, the young lady held on and turned to her teammates.

"Adella, hurry!"

"Okay, Frey!"

Adella knew that there was no time to hesitate anymore. Even though she didn't know why there was a high-class demon in the maze, she apparently wasn't an enemy who they were capable of defeating. Adella hesitated no more. She reached for the teleport crystal and as soon as she activated it, they could return to the comfortable haven of the Mage Tower...

That should have been the case.

"Ahhhhhh!"

"Adella?!"

Frey turned to Adella who burst out screaming. The latter clutched the teleport crystal, her expression in agony. The magic crystal that should have transformed into a teleportation door exploded with a turbid form of energy that enveloped her. Under her snowy skin, weird bumps suffused throughout, slowly penetrating her body.

"That is... Damn it. Move away!"

Celestina grimaced. She growled and withdrew the thorn whip. Then, a sharp, pitch-black chain sword appeared in thin air, lashing out at Frey's magical barrier. The blazing black flames instantly devoured Frey's magical barrier, striking the young lady away. Then, the black chain sword aimed for the young lady shrouded in the dark, turbid matter, wrapping her entirely. Celestina withdrew the chain sword, pulling Adella across the room and crashing her into the wall.

"Adella!"

Frey shrieked in panic. But before she charged at the female demon, a crisp voice rang from the end of the corridor where the female demon came from.

"What happened, Big Sister?!"

"This lowly human has been corroded by Chaos. Purify her, Celia!"

"Yes!"

Celia lifted her sword and erupted silver-whitish flames on the blade in the blink of an eye. Then, she swiftly penetrated Adella's body, the holy flames enveloping the young lady entirely.

"No...!"

Frey screamed and almost fainted from fright. Then, she realized that something was up.

The dark mass of matter suddenly broke away from Adella like a viper slithering away from the silver-whitish holy flames. Shortly after, it seemed to notice Clark laying on the side and went for him instead.

Oh no!

Frey clutched her weapon, dashing toward Clark as quickly as possible. Even though she didn't know what was going on, she instinctively felt that the dark matter was a bigger threat than the female demon. But she was too late. The dark matter charged into Clark like an enormous viper devouring its prey.

But at the next moment, shimmering blade rays flashed, splitting the dark matter into four. Two petite figures in robes appeared in front of Clark and stopped the dark matter successfully. Then, Celia's holy flames also arrived at the scene, blasting a critical blow to the dark matter. Ear-piercing screams sounded as the dark matter was purified and burned by the silver-whitish flames like snow melting in the sun, vanishing to nothingness.

"..."

Frey stared in bewilderment at the vanishing dark matter.

What exactly is going on?