When Greem and Mary finally arrived to where the groups had split apart, there were four people waiting for them already.
Noticing the weakest team had successfully returned safely, a relaxed smile simultaneously appeared on the faces of Marcus, Leander, Isaac, and Bruce as their hearts finally felt at ease. If something happened to the Greem and Mary duo, someone would have to do investigation missions all alone.
But before they could ease their blooming smiles, they were slack-jawed after seeing the dead body Mary had brought back with her. Seeing the black-colored Adept robe with distinct characteristics from the ones they're wearing, they all came up with an idea... this apprentice Adept's corpse belonged to a Fallen apprentice Adept.
While the three advanced apprentices could still remain impassive, the Pseudo-Adept Marcus sported an unnatural expression on his face.
"Did that body belonged to an advanced apprentice or a Pseudo-Adept?" Marcus asked in a deep voice.
"Of course she's an advanced apprentice. If she was a Pseudo-Adept, we won't be standing here before you, safe and sound." Mary said naturally.
Hearing her answer slightly relaxed Marcus' stiff expression, but he was still unable to get rid of his unnatural expression. If he didn't experienced going to the underground world himself, he might not even be the slightest bit interested regarding this kind of result. But if there was one thing the cruel experiences of the underground world had taught him, it would be that using any kind of elemental magic spell in a place like this would be catastrophic. He knew their victory didn't come easy as most apprentices only know a few elemental magic spells.
Elemental magic spells could inflict a massive amount of damage within a large area of effect, thus making them stand at the very forefront among all other kinds of magic. This made apprentice Adepts who mastered elemental spells to be likened to a magic cannon with frightening firepower, able to bombard the battlefields with magic spells and cause mass slaughter. What limited their potential was not the number of enemies but the very little amount of magic energy they had.
However, in this underground environment, all of these skills would no longer be of much use.
In the event of an unexpected fight occurring underground, the fiery elemental spells would destroy not only the enemy, but also the area around them. With that said, immeasurable amounts of dirt and sand would pour down from above. Even if it was a Pseudo-Adept, once he's trapped in this dreadful situation, escape would have an extremely slim chance.
What apprentice Adepts want in this location was not some kind of magic spell that has a highly destructive power, but one with just enough power to defeat their foes. An apprentice Adept can only be called a qualified spellcaster when he/she is able to both control the power and effect of the spell, and efficiently cast it towards the enemy accurately.
Put it this way, a swarm of Rat Men ambushed you amidst the darkness, it's not them that is more likely to kill you, but the explosive fireball you nonchalantly sent to the enemy. After being viciously swarmed by the underground creatures and being ambushed by strange demon beasts of the darkness, apprentice Adepts who had gone through this stressful and miserable situation would slowly adapt, shrugging off their previous arrogant and pretentious attitudes. Becoming someone ruthless but calm, yet smart and shrewd.
These few apprentice Adepts experienced firsthand how painfully hard it was to fight an enemy of the same level in this underground world making them feel shock over the corpse of an advanced apprentice brought by Mary.
Not one Body Refining Adept was present among the apprentices who signed up for the Underground Cave exploration mission. But why is that? It is because the deep and narrow underground tunnels aren't suitable for Body Refining Adepts who fought with pure strength. When fighting in this kind of environment, mini magic spells with moderate power and quick casting speed would be preferable.
In a fight between apprentice Adepts, the two parties need to constantly change their battleground and slowly accumulate advantages to devour the enemy one bite at a time. Once either side realized the situation wasn't looking good for them and decided to flee, it would be incredibly difficult for the chasing side to entrap the enemy without having any special ability.
But this red-dressed Mary could actually accomplish this feat, showing that she must have some kind of strange magic spells that are extremely suitable for use in this types of places. What would that be?
The group couldn't help but ponder upon this.
At this time, thirty-four hours had already passed since they decided to split up. From what they could infer from the distances from here to the paths each of them took, even Sabrina's group who took the toughest mission site should have returned by now. When they connected the dots between their absence and the violent 'earthquakes', the group was struck with worries.
Fortunately, the worst case scenario never happened. After three hours of waiting, Sabrina and Shila returned in a relatively bad shape.The mission site they chose was located nearly ten miles deep beneath the ground, thus being greatly affected by the violent earthquake earlier. If it wasn't for Sabrina mainly studying mechanical spells, having replaced a few of her vital organs with powerful magical machinery, perhaps it would be very difficult for them to break through the collapsed underground passages that led them back to the surface.
Out of the five teams that had gone here, only four had returned safely. Hence, it was painfully obvious who among them were attacked.
Right when the group was about to bitterly accept the loss of two fellow members in their very first trip to the underground world, the young Pseudo-Adept named Leo fled back to their camp, bathed in blood.
His gray apprentice robe had torn apart here and there, his skinny body full of crisscrossing wounds. Dark smoke emanated from these wounds, staining the flesh around them in pitch-black color. Leo's face had also been hit by an Acid Arrow, with half of his face making a sizzling sound resulting from the corrosive effects of the strong acid. If not for his distinct spiritual ripple revealing his identity, the group would've treated him as an enemy.
Although he was severely wounded, Leo still refused his teammates' treatment. Especially because they were yet to truly establish trust between each other. He does not want his body's secrets to fall into the control of any outsider.
Hiding in a corner alone, Leo hastily treated his wounds. He then came back to the group with a gloomy expression, prepared to be questioned by his teammates.
When they heard there were three black-robed Pseudo-Adepts and one advanced apprentice attacked Leo and Matthew's group, even Sabrina couldn't help but ponder in silence. If she was the one who bumped into the enemy group, maybe she herself wouldn't escape uscathed. Seeing Leo was able to preserve his own life, it meant he possessed good enough ability to do so.
"How was the overall strength of the enemies you guys encountered?" Sabrina asked Mary after she was done with Leo.
"We met two enemies, one Pseudo-Adept, and one advanced apprentice. We set up a plan and lured away the Pseudo-Adept then ambushed this advanced apprentice. Greem and I cooperated to kill her!" Mary described lightly.
Although she told them it was her and Greem together that killed the enemy, whether it was intentional or not, the group naturally ignored Greem's existence.
No way, a beginner apprentice who had less than ten Spirit points and only mastered a spell or two, could a guy like this really participate in a battle between advanced apprentices? The group had a hard time imagining this.
It was only at this time that Leo noticed the female corpse lying besides Mary's feet. Immediately after, he shrieked out loudly.
"S-she... she was among the four who attacked us. After Matthew and I split up and fled on our own, two Pseudo-Adepts went after me while this girl and the other Pseudo-Adept chased after Matthew. I only managed to escape from their pursuit after a bitter fight."
Although Leo spoke evasively, the group didn't really care much.
Split up and flee separately? Hmph. Under such perilous circumstances, would a mere advanced apprentice like Matthew even have the courage to flee on his own? Leo must have realized the situation wasn't looking too good, thus he ditched Matthew and ran for his life. By doing that, he divided the enemy's strength and attention.
Although everyone had already guessed what probably happened, no one blamed Leo for his actions. If they were in his shoes, they might have done the same thing as him.
Matthew's inability to escape can only be blame to his own lack of ability. Who gave him the audacity to take on this Red Mission without any life-preserving methods?
After gathering information from both teams, Sabrina finally concluded the intelligence gathering about the enemies.
There were three Pseudo-Adepts. The first among them took the path of Bloodline Adepts possessing the frightening bloodline of the Demonic Serpent; the second one took the path of Profound Adepts able to summon some corpse puppets with powerful battle power; the last Pseudo-Adept walk the path of Principle Adepts having an elemental affinity with Wind Elementium.
With this intelligence in their hands and the dead body of an enemy advanced apprentice, the group received rewards from Adept Angus when they returned to the Adept Tower. Although Leo was ambushed on his way back, he was still able to return and complete his mission, thus he also received his share of the reward.
As for Mary, the girl who got lucky and was able to kill an enemy of the same rank all alone, she obtained a special reward from Adept Angus. But no one knows what kind of reward she actually received since the process of giving out rewards was done with utmost secrecy.
At the time the group was about to leave, Adept Angus warned them in a ghastly voice saying, "Little apprentices, you better not regard yourselves as veterans already after only one successful trip from the underground world. In the upcoming mission you will have, you'll be met with more difficulty with the frequency of attacks from the enemy will rise. Only those who are cautious and prepared will live longer lives. So take advantage of the few days of rest you have, otherwise, you won't be as lucky as you are now in your next trip."
"Moreover, the intelligence you brought back is useful. I'll pass them onto the hunting team here. I assure you, the ones who attacked you wouldn't have a peaceful trip back towards their base. Jajaja..."
From the hidden meaning faintly revealed by Adept Angus' words, the group finally understood the importance of the few apprentice teams that only consisted of pure veterans.
If we were to talk about it figuratively then, them, the new team would be the bait to lure out the prey. While the team of Blackhand Kevin would be the harpooner that strikes down the enemy. One acting as a prey to lure out the strong enemy apprentices, while the other acted as the hunter, specialized in hunting down these black-robed Pseudo-Adepts who took the bait and exposed themselves.
In fact, when those black-robed Pseudo-Adepts failed to kill Leo and Mary, they had also exposed their whereabouts. With just a send of a message, the hunting group who had roamed the underground world for many years would immediately pursue them.
Upon imagining the possible cruel fates the ones who ambushed him and made him flee in desperation, a savage smile emerged on the Leo's half-festered face.