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 "What's this?"

Lize gazed towards the end of the tunnel. A few odd cocoon-like objects at least one meter in diameter hung on the wall. As the faint light from the flames shone on both sides of the tunnel, the cocoons seemed to be hanging on a cellar but it couldn't be seen clearly as it was pitch-black inside.

"Are these the ones?"

"Yes, Sir."

The mercenary nodding as he leaned against the wall and peeked his head out to observe.

"I discovered those weird looking things when I carried out your instructions to check out the area. Although I tried approaching closer, I instantly retreated after hearing a low hiss. Sir, you reminded us not to get too close to anything weird so I didn't go ahead."

"What's happening on the other side?"

Rhode nodded and paused for a while before asking. The other mercenary sharply replied shortly after.

"Reporting, Sir. The other side has collapsed and it's a dead end. It seems that no one had been through there and nothing strange was discovered."

"In other words, those Barbarians had been through here then?"

Marlene frowned at the sight of the cocoons. As a Mage, she learned about many different species of creatures and monsters and the oddity of these cocoons incited her doubts. She suspected that these cocoons might be the result of monsters that prefer to hide in deep caves. However, if those Barbarians really had been through here, then the possibility would be very low. After all, in Dragon Soul Continent, other than summoning and counter-summoning, humans were unable to domesticate and manipulate these monsters. On the other hand, these wild monsters wouldn't have any enemy identification senses or have the abilities to judge if a food was edible or not. Inferring from common sense, since those Barbarians could make it out alive, then it shouldn't be a problem for them to enter too...

"It's the Sword Spider."

Rhode calmly revealed the 'correct answer'.

"Sword Spider?

Everyone was baffled by that term. Marlene frowned and shifted her attention to the front with vigilance.

"Isn't that a creature that lives in hell..."

"That's right, the Sword Spiders are lowly creatures in the first level of hell and are the 'critters', similar to the Parasitic Ghouls. Since these Sword Spiders had appeared, that would mean that the demon had decided to begin his ritual to open the passageway. This would mean trouble for us."

"Trouble?"

Those mercenaries who were listening attentively to the 'Discovery Channel Animal Planet Encyclopedia - Rhode's Edition' were stunned. In their mind, this formidable and omniscient young man was almost omnipotent. Ever since they worked their way with Rhode, this was the first time they heard him spoke of the word 'trouble'. Shortly after, the mercenary who checked on this tunnel previously asked with a pale expression.

"Sir, how bad would the trouble be? Could it be these creatures are hard to deal with?"

"It's neither hard nor easy. The Sword Spiders have a simple attacking pattern. They have strong fur and ordinary sword couldn't deal any damage to them. Furthermore, their eight claws are as sharp as sword blades which could easily slash through steel armor. Lastly, they can eject spider webs and venoms at their enemies as a form of aggression. Of course, their weaknesses are also very obvious. As long as you seize the chance to attack their eyes and soft bellies, it's not difficult to get rid of them."

Rhode paused before continuing.

"Sword Spiders and Parasitic Ghouls are different. The Sword Spiders are creatures that have been summoned into this plane of existence by the demons. Therefore, they have a delicate mental connection with their summoners. If we destroy these Sword Spiders, the demon will know that someone is on its turf and the real trouble will come."

Everyone's expression turned grave. It was obvious what would happen once they were discovered, but...

"Is there a way to get past the Sword Spiders without engaging? Like just now, to let Miss Marlene alter the sounds..."

"The Sword Spiders senses its surroundings through vibrations, so sound means nothing to them."

Rhode shook his head slightly before he carefully recalled the entire construction of the Fortress. This location was on the second floor underground and theoretically, this floor should be the place where the passageway would open. Rhode initially planned to secretly destroy the passageway ritual and then defeat the demon, leaving the other critters to the mercenaries to handle. However, now it seemed that this plan had to be altered. Although he did predict that there would be troublesome enemies, an enemy like the Sword Spider gave Rhode a huge headache more than anything else. The Sword Spiders were creatures that Rhode hated to encounter even in the game because once these creatures were killed, they would definitely summon more creatures. It was like a moving alert system that couldn't be shut down or removed.

"So then, Mr. Rhode, since these creatures came from hell, how about we leave them to Miss Celestina? Previously when we faced the Parasitic Ghouls..."

"No."

Rhode denied Marlene's suggestion.

"The demons can sense each other. Although their levels and identities might have a huge difference, a demon who worships another demon lord will not obey other high leveled demons. Besides, even if Celestina could make these Sword Spiders quiet down, her aura will eventually be detected by them and our plans will fail nonetheless."

But...

Rhode paused and turned towards his mercenaries.

Maybe this might be a good chance to give them a test?

Rhode shut his mouth and a bright idea suddenly occurred in his mind. He extended his arm and signaled mentally. A few cards then appeared on his palm. Rhode locked on to two of the cards that were hidden within the summoned cards. These two cards were totally different from what he had. The cards were entirely red, with a quirky and complex pattern unfolding around the edges. Unlike the other cards, these two cards didn't have any print of spirits on them. Instead, what displayed on them was a raging volcano and numerous women setting off fiery firestorms.

[Received Red Lotus Card 3/10, Slave Card, Magic Card - Seven Hells]

[Received Red Lotus Card 4/10, Slave Card, Supernatural Card -Sulfuric River]

[Seven Hells (Slave & Magic Card Attributes): AOE Spell, Unfuseable, Fire Element, Red Lotus Law - Lower Law

Warning: Red Lotus Core - Dedicated Magic Card. Not to be used with additional cards. The summoner can trigger through compensating with EXP.

Duration: Every second consumes one percent EXP.]

[Sulfuric River (Slave & Supernatural Attributes): AOE, Un-fuseable, Fire Element, Red Lotus Law - Middle Law

Warning: Red Lotus Core - Dedicated Supernatural Card. Not to be used with additional cards. The summoner can trigger through compensating with EXP.

Duration: Every second consumes one percent EXP.]

It's indeed so.

Rhode's eyes brightened when he saw the stats of these two cards. In fact, after Gillian summoned the Sulfuric River, Rhode had been suspecting this for a long time. Although Rhode didn't use his Soul Core, when Gillian activated her powers, her card was similar to his summoning cards. And even though Rhode had once heard that some rare high-leveled summoned spirit under favorable conditions might generate a unique card which only the summoner could use, in the game, most of his summoned spirits were battle types, which was why he didn't receive a card of this kind. Now it seemed that it was exactly like what he predicted. However, the only thing that made Rhode dubious was that there's no system prompt at all. Probably the system recognized the cards as Gillian's dedicated cards, which was why it didn't appear.

However...

Rhode took in a deep breath after looking through the requirements of both cards. Rhode would need to consume one percent of his EXP every second. This was probably his punishment for not using these cards through Gillian. After all, these were core dedicated cards and he used them was beyond his authority. So he had to pay a price.

However, in his opinion, these two cards were great choices.

Rhode had already fixed a plan in his mind. Soon, he lowered his head and placed his finger ring by his mouth.

"Joey, Marfa, Gillian, stop what you're doing. There's a change in the situation. From now on, we will be attacking the Fortress and will most probably attract their attention. Gillian, I want you to lead Anne and the others to engage in a frontal attack on the Fortress to attract their attention after the enemies are alerted."

"Joey, your plan remains unchanged. Take control on the second floor of the Fortress and group up with Marfa afterward."

"Marfa, once Gillian engages in the attack, coordinate to ambush from below. If there's anything wrong, immediately report to me. If you discover anything strange and unfamiliar, don't act without permission, understood?"

"Yes, Boss."

"Understood, Leader."

"Got, Master."

After receiving their acknowledgment, Rhode placed his arm down and swept a glance at everyone.

"Follow me."

There weren't any traces of light in the cellar. Although Rhode had warned everyone beforehand and they had slowed their steps, the pale-looking cocoons still gave them the shivers. However, even so, they continued forward.

"---!"

As the group approached the exit of the tunnel, the cocoons hanging not far away suddenly began to tremble. Not only that, everyone could hear deep, weird noises from within. Rhode gripped onto his sword while staring attentively at the cocoons. The others also prepared themselves as they slowly stepped towards the end.

!!

Just as Rhode stepped into the cellar, the cocoons that were hanging on the ceiling suddenly cracked and exploded into rays of light before darting towards Rhode.

Rhode remained calm and sneered as he brandished his sword upwards, deflecting the sharp claws easily. Accompanied by the ear-piercing sound of friction, Rhode slanted to the right; and at the same time, he tilted his sword diagonally upwards to his left. With this motion, the sharp claws lost their trajectory and slipped off. The sword in Rhode's hand then struck the claws away.

Suddenly, a large body emerged in front of Rhode.

The spider that was covered in black fur lost its balance. It opened its mouth wide and stared at Rhode with its three pairs of eyes, releasing a chilly screech. However, Rhode's didn't have any reaction towards the ghastly looking monster. Instead, he flicked off the spider claws and slashed his sword at the Sword Spider's soft belly.

A sword aura as brilliant as a comet shone once again. The Sword Spider groaned as smashed against the wall. Putrid, grayish-brown blood spewed from its wound.

"Don't touch their fur, there's venom on them."

Rhode reminded the rest as he struck the spider. The surrounding cocoons began to tremble and shortly after, numerous Sword Spiders started darting forward one by one.

Lize turned pale at the sight of the approaching spiders. However, she swiftly gestured with her hand and a golden barrier emerged above everyone quickly. The mercenaries also lifted their weapons and began to surround the Sword Spiders.

Although the mercenaries were only about three to four levels away from Rhode, in terms of Swordsmanship, they were actually around 30 to 40 levels apart. They couldn't face a Sword Spider on their own in a one versus one. However, they wouldn't have an issue if they fought in a duo or trio. Meanwhile, Marlene quickly summoned a strong ice wall to decrease the spiders' attacking range.

These Sword Spiders were indeed difficult to handle.

As a low-leveled creature of the first floor in hell, these Sword Spiders were brutal in nature and held powerful physical strength. Not anyone could resist against their blade-like claws. If the levels of the Sword Spiders were calculated in human terms, they would probably range around the mid of Elite stage, which was much harder to deal with than humans.

"Heyah!"

A mercenary lifted his sword in the air and defended against the Sword Spider's incredibly powerful attack. The mercenary struggled to stay upright and almost kneeled to the ground. Then, the Sword Spider suddenly let off an odd hiss before swiping across its right claw towards the mercenary's stomach. As the claw was about to rip off his stomach, all of a sudden, a golden barrier once again emerged.

Clang!! The Sword Spider's claw smashed onto the golden barrier. Its powerful strength forced the golden barrier to flicker and its bright light momentarily dulled.

"Busya!"

Accompanied by the incantation, an ice cone shot from the rear and pierced into a Sword Spider that was caught off guard. The gravely injured Sword Spider shook violently before withdrawing its sharp claws and attempted to escape. However, before it could do so, a mercenary instantly slashed his sword downwards and ended its life.

"Cha!"

The sharp sword tip pierced into the Sword Spider's brain and in the blink of an eye, the terrifying creature of hell turned into a corpse.

"Hu..."

The mercenary heaved a long sigh of relief, but at that moment, another Sword Spider secretly emerged by his side with its mouth wide opened. It was about to eject a mouthful of webs onto the mercenary.

"Sh*t!"

The mercenary couldn't dodge in time and was trapped up in the web. He struggled to break free but to no avail. The Sword Spider eventually crawled onto his head and prepared its sharp teeth.

A ghostly figure suddenly appeared between the mercenary and the Sword Spider.

A bright red light shone in the darkness and slashed the Sword Spider. The Sword Spider who had missed its meal immediately groaned and scrambled to the ground.

"Marlene!"

Rhode quickly shouted for Marlene. Without hesitation, she chanted and made a few complicated symbols. Soon enough, a sharp cone-shaped rock appeared from the ceiling and crashed downwards, penetrating the Sword Spider's carapace.

In only a few moments, the Sword Spiders that were in charge of guarding the tunnel had been totally wiped off. However, Rhode didn't let his guard down because he heard footsteps and screams from the Barbarians. Just as he predicted, the Barbarians detected their engagement!

Rhode clenched his teeth and swiftly ordered his team.

"Lize, seal the entrance and buy us some time."

"Gillian, begin the assault."

"Yes, Master."

The fox-eared woman that was lazing on a rock sprang up immediately. She opened her eyes and smiled menacingly towards the direction of the Fortress. Shortly after, countless fireballs appeared by her side.

"Alright, everyone! Master's orders! It's time for us to shine! Let's move!"

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