A dim light shone upon the ancient, stale hall. The candle flames trembled slightly under the airflow; even the shadows on the wall couldn't stop quivering. Under the illumination of the flame, a huge prison made entirely from white bones could be vaguely seen.
Apart from the reflection of the terrifying blood-drawn ritual circle, dozens of haggard men and women held onto each other tightly for support in the bone prison. Their faces were smeared with mud and their eyes unveiled an uncontrollable fear. Although they were the best hunters in the forest, they still ended up like goats waiting to be slaughtered. They shuddered in the darkness with pale complexions and worried expressions.
Ugly and inferior beings.
Gelk snorted in disdain as he withdrew his attention from the prisoners. He narrowed his eyes towards the mirror that reflected his beautiful face. His well-maintained fingers extended towards his head and gently touched his hair, delicately shifting back a strand of hair that was 'showing disobedience to organizational discipline' back into his hair. Gelk then turned around and admired his face attentively.
The man gasped in admiration at his own reflection.
With such a perfect body, a charming face, mesmerizing eyes, flowy long hair, and alluring lips... He felt that he was the most perfect creation in this world. Only he had the rights to claim so. He was the most beautiful, pretty and perfect being in this world. At this moment, he should be in his warm and comfortable home admiring the breathtaking beauty of hell while listening to the beautiful poems those painful souls sang with their lives.
He shouldn't be in this dirty and filthy place to guard these ridiculous humans.
Gelk was dissatisfied. But soon, that notion dissipated to nothingness. He was only a lowly-ranked Demon General that was not even worth a mention to the massive existence of the first floor. This was what Gelk was most dissatisfied about. Manifesting strength was unsophisticated and it was considered as an ugly behavior. To him, beauty was everything in this world. However, it was a pity that most of the demons in hell couldn't understand the word 'beauty' and only knew how to kill and murder.
Gelk picked up a brush to gently wipe off a few bits of dust at the corner of his eye. When he lifted his head and was about to shave a few strands of the hair at the corner of his mouth, a sudden spiritual signal triggered his emotions. The razor on his hand stopped midway.
Looking at that strand of disobedient hair in disdain, Gelk sneered and plucked it off. He turned his head towards the statue-like servants who were wrapped in black robes and standing in the hall with four corners.
"Someone below intruded our Fortress. Go check on the situation and capture them!"
A few black robes swiftly took off after receiving Gelk's orders. After they left, Gelk revealed disdain in his eyes and once again turned towards the mirror in front of him.
Bam!! At this moment, the entire Fortress shook with a deep, loud crash. Gravel and dust fell from the ceiling and in an instant, the entire hall was filled with dust particles.
A terrifying cry of anger caused a violent storm to surge, clearing out the dusty hall instantly. Gelk stood in the middle of the hall furiously. He clenched his teeth and stared at his hands only to see his pair of white, delicate fingers filled with filthy dust. He shivered and slowly turned towards the mirror in front of him. A layer of dust now covered the mirror which should have been spotlessly clean. And in the mirror, a reflection of a beggar with a dirty face could be vaguely seen.
Gelk's hands trembled as he stared at his reflection in horror. Clear, transparent tears flowed from his eyes. He felt incredible pain and anger. He even suspected that he had never met with such pain ever since he was born.
"Why...! Why did this happen?!! Who? Which bastard was the one that did this!!"
At this moment, a guard gasped for air as he ran towards Gelk. His face was filled with panic as he kept turning his head towards his back.
"There are enemies co..."
A clear slap rang.
Without turning around, Gelk slapped the guard's face with his the back of his hand. The guard's head spun for two rounds before losing its sense of direction and fell dead to the ground. This scene caused the group of prisoners to shiver as they stared at the terrifying demon in horror.
After slapping the guard to death, Gelk's emotions seemed to turn for the better. He took in a few deep breaths before turning around. At that moment, another guard arrived. Looking at his fellow guard's corpse, the fellow stood on the spot smartly and reported by the door's entrance.
"Reporting to Master. Enemies are attacking the Fortress!"
"Who are they?"
Gelk questioned with a frown as he flicked off the bloodstains on his hand. He retrieved a handkerchief from the fold of his clothes and wiped both his hands and face. In response, the guard revealed a terrified expression.
"I don't know, Master. There's not a lot of them but they're too powerful and we can't hold them back any longer..."
"Useless piece of crap!"
Gelk frowned and stormed towards the guard.
"Move! I'll go take a look!"
As Gelk was about to step onto the platform, another spiritual signal that was filled with fear and panic suddenly rose from the bottom of his heart.
"Master, Master, we can't hold them back. We... Ah...!!"
The spiritual signal disappeared in a blink of an eye. Gelk clenched his teeth and looked at his feet.
It seems that things aren't that simple... who would dare to attack the Fortress?
Furthermore, they're even capable of defeating my minions?
Can it be the Holy Knights from the churches? Impossible! If those bunch of bastards is on my turf, I should've detected their spiritual aura long ago. Moreover, the enemy launched multiple attacks with various tactics?
"Leave it to me."
Suddenly, a feminine voice sounded from behind him. Gelk twitched his brows and subsequently nodded. Shortly after, the shadow hanging behind Gelk suddenly distorted, left his body and flew towards the other end of the tunnel. In a blink of an eye, that shadow blended into the darkness.
The red longsword punctured the Black Robe's body. The man opened his mouth wide as he tried to use his two-meter long claw to attack. However, the claw wasn't able to touch Rhode who moved like a ghost. Rhode lifted his sword and once more and darted forward. The exploding sword aura pierced through the Black Robe's brain and only then did the Black Robe stop moving once and for all.
"Marlene, how much longer do you need?"
Rhode swept towards another wild Black Robe with his sword and asked. At this moment, everyone had already left the tunnel and entered the middle of the cellar on the second underground floor. Just as Rhode predicted, this passageway was the entrance of the Plane of Existence's ritual. However, it wasn't easy to traverse the passageway as the Sword Spider's carcasses triggered the demons' attention. Soon, Rhode and the rest were met with the attacks from more than ten of the Black Robes.
These Black Robes aren't humans. Actually, it was more accurate to say that they aren't human any longer. After being controlled by the parasites, they had turned into monsters. Not only were they able to spit fireballs, but they could also even extend their arms in length and attack enemies with whips and long swords.
Other than Rhode, the rest wasn't prepared to face such enemies and were instantly caught in a stalemate. Although the situation was quickly broken with Rhode's help, this also gave the enemies breathing space. In the end, when everyone arrived at the entrance of the passageway, almost ten minutes had passed. However, Rhode wasn't able to retreat because of the plan. As an experienced and seasoned player, Rhode knew how crucial the removal of this passageway ritual was. If he sought to gain instant success from wiping out the demons, unless it was a one-shot kill, these demons could still activate the passageway ritual. By then, even an incomplete passageway ritual would still be able to call for unlimited reinforcements. If things headed in that direction, the situation would get troublesome.
Loud explosions above ground could be heard even though they were separated by two floors. Rhode could guess that Gillian was having so much fun right now. However, he didn't have the time to be concerned about the possibilities whether Gillian would destroy the entire Fortress because he discovered that the passageway ritual was extremely complex. Ordinary humans couldn't possibly disrupt it. Furthermore, there was a mysterious defensive barrier which Rhode and his team couldn't leave a scratch on - This was the first time Rhode regretted not bringing Lapis along because it would only require a few minutes of her time to remove such a barrier.
Luckily, as a Mage, Marlene had learned to break down rituals. Although it was true that rituals modified by the demons would be challenging for her, it wasn't something totally impossible. Therefore, Rhode's only choice was to designate Marlene to break the ritual while he and his group continued to resist against the attacks of the Black Robes.
However, it was no easy task to defend against the Black Robes.
Without Marlene was the 'damage dealer', the mercenaries were beginning to have a hard time fighting the Black Robes. Lize was trying her best, but she was ultimately stronger in defense rather than offense. Rhode put in plenty of effort as well but decided against summoning Celia and Celestina because he sensed that the demon's rank from the ritual was probably a high one. Facing such a strong enemy, it was best to keep his trump cards till the very end. So even though the defensive line was slowly crumbling, he wasn't going to reveal his trump cards.
A Black Robe revealed its claws as it launched towards Rhode. Rhode retaliated by transforming into a shadow and split into two. When the Black Robe's claws landed between both shadows, it felt a tremendous feedback reverberating through its limbs as though it had cut metal. Suddenly, the Black Robe gave a painful cry as fresh blood spurted out from a gash on his face. At that moment, the three mercenaries who stood behind Rhode immediately charged forward and attacked the Black Robe with their weapons. Soon, the Black Robe collapsed on the ground with no more signs of life.
Rhode frowned and let out a low growl as he drew a half-arc in the air with the Crimson Blade. In an instant, a glaring ray emerged out of nowhere and once again forced the other Black Robes away.
Lize breathed deeply and seized the opportunity to fill up the gap in the Defense Wall after Rhode forced back the monsters. Even though the mercenaries were actively defending, they still couldn't completely hold back the attacks from the Black Robes. Luckily, they had already killed half of them. Otherwise, Lize didn't know how much longer she could hold on.
Bang! Another Black Robe opened its mouth and shot a wave of flames onto Lize's barrier. The woman shook under the immense pressure and clenched her teeth before casting another Defense Wall.
However, Lize didn't notice that in a shadow not too far away from her, an erratic fluctuation lurked within...
Marlene focused her all her attention on the complicated ritual. She heard screams from the Black Robes when they clashed in the battle behind her. Although the woman was filled with anxiousness, she calmed herself down and continued to dismantle the defense barrier on the ritual. At this moment, three of the seven defense linkages were removed. From the start, as she wasn't familiar with these defense linkages, she wasted a lot of time figuring them out. However, now that she had slowly familiarized with their rules, she began to pick up speed. But even so, Marlene was still feeling rather anxious. How could she ignore the increasingly ragged breathing of Lize and also the sound from Rhode's attacks?
Marlene clenched her teeth as her hands spun lightly in the air. Her slender fingers swiped against the flow in the linkages. Shortly after, a ritual circle emerged on the tip of Marlene's fingertips. Focusing on this ritual circle, Marlene remained silent for a brief moment before she carefully reached out towards it.
Soon, after Marlene pushed the peculiar ritual circle forward, it gradually blended into the defense linkages on the ground. Suddenly, just as the ritual circle completely submerged, a series of magical rays shone brilliantly. The entire linkage broke and shattered. The barrier in front of her eyes once again became much more transparent.
Marlene let out a sigh of relief. However, at that moment, she felt an extremely dangerous sensation creeping in from her back.
This was purely due to her instinct and there was no time for her to hesitate. When she felt the threat closing in, she swiftly rolled to the side. Then, a burst of immense pain struck her shoulder and caused the woman to scream in pain.
At this moment, Marlene turned over and stared in surprise.
An odd human-shaped figure emerged from her shadow that was cast on the wall behind her. The shadow observed her horrified expression and conjured a thick beam of cold air from the ground which tightly wrapped around the woman's body.
Marlene struggled to break free from the air. When she tried to chant a spell, the cold air poured into her mouth, forcing her to cough violently and disrupting her chanting. The thick icy air slowly climbed up her feet and began to devour the woman's body.
At that moment, that shadowy human-shaped figure stretched out its finger.
A frigid blade shot out from the black figure's finger and spun towards Marlene's heart.
Marlene shut her eyes.