Rhode and Emily had to listen closely to the faint voices that resounded in the tunnel. Leaning against 'Miss Seren', Emily held her breath and stared at the dark end of the tunnel. Her heart was pounding. She clenched her fists and placed them on her chest. An indescribable nervousness clouded her mind and she couldn't breathe.
Rhode noticed Emily's nervousness, but he didn't have the time to console her. Instead, he leaned against the wall on his side and listened carefully. The voices were dull and stammering and it didn't seem to be coming from the other side of this wall. In other words, the voice was most possibly coming from in front of them... Rhode knitted his brows and waved his arm before him. However, he realized that this wasn't the gaming world and there weren't any map plug-ins available for him...
But even so, Rhode had some other ways.
He kneeled down and scanned the ground cautiously with the radiance of the torches hung on the wall. He slid his fingers along the wall to the ground and rubbed the broken ore fragments gathered at the corner. Emily blinked curiously and was about to ask when she changed her mind after gazing at the dark tunnel ahead. What is Miss Seren doing?
After several minutes, Rhode grabbed a nail-sized smooth stone from the pile of gravel and held it before him. He shut his eyes and transmitted a tiny bit of spiritual energy into it and a system prompt emerged before him.
[Discovered shattered crystal fragment]
I was right.
Rhode nodded slightly. The crystal fragment had solved his doubts. It seemed that they were almost arriving at the other mine; the crystal mine that belonged to the Howard Family. But... weren't they moving too slow to reach the Howard Family's mine?
Rhode turned to Emily and said softly, "Miss Emily, is there anyone else around apart from us?"
"Hmm..." Emily pondered for a moment and said hesitantly. "... If I recall correctly, the Howard Family owns a mine around here too. But... theirs is far away from ours."
After all, the Edward Trade Association produced mainly silver and iron ores while the Howard Trade Association's main business relied on magical crystal ores. Both families had different material requirements and it wasn't possible for them to operate on the same piece of land. Besides, the iron and silver ores buried in the soil were unlike the magical crystals that usually grew out of the soil. Due to the magical properties in them, the rock qualities around them were poor and high purity silver and iron ores couldn't possibly exist. This was why it wouldn't be easy if both sides were to lay hands on one another. Although tunnel cutting was a common occurrence in a huge city like the Deep Stone City, a Trade Association in this small place didn't have sufficient manpower and equipment for it. This was why they mostly searched for naturally formed caves to explore and dig for mineral resources. Such caves were common below Fiat and sometimes it wouldn't be surprising if a cave had bored through the mountain.
Rhode explained to Emily in detail swiftly and she gaped in astonishment. After all, she wasn't familiar with such knowledge since she had been living her days in the Trade Association. No matter what, they wouldn't allow a girl like her to mine.
"Miss Seren, what you meant was... We might have entered the Howard Family's mine?" Emily's voice was filled with a joyous tone. She felt as though they had spent a long time spinning around this dark underground maze. Was it 10 minutes? 20 minutes? An hour? Two hours? Half a day? Or a whole day?
No matter how long the time had passed, she was extremely exhausted and her stomach was rumbling with hunger. Every inch of her body was aching and she had to stay vigilant against the threat of terrifying creatures lurking in the darkness. She was delighted and hopeful after hearing Rhode's explanation. Although the Howard Family and Edward Family didn't have the best of relationships, surely they would still prefer to be with humans than to be left alone in this scary place, right?
"Not yet. The voices sound far away. But I think there should be a tunnel leading us there from the front. Miss Emily, please be careful. The cave ahead hasn't been dug through yet, so we have to proceed cautiously," Rhode stood up and grabbed the torch by the wall. He smiled at Emily. "Let's go, Miss Emily."
"Okay, Miss Seren," Emily calmed down unknowingly after looking at 'Miss Seren's' gentle smile. Not too long ago, she was still anxiously hoping to leave this dark, terrifying underground world. But now, she had the sudden urge to spend more time with her here.
While Rhode and Emily entered farther down, the surface was in utter chaos.
Celia gazed at the screaming and quarreling crowd from the side. She held her forehead and sighed hopelessly.
The members of the Edward Trade Association arrived at the scene hurriedly and they broke out in disputes after listening to the explanations of the miners and Celia. The disputes had gotten worse after the members were informed that their Chairman had died. Some of them believed that they should clear the blocked tunnel as soon as possible to rescue Miss Emily and 'Miss Seren'. After all, one of them was their Chairman's daughter while the other was a guest from the Country of Light, which made it difficult for them to answer to any mishaps. The other half of the group objected their suggestion violently because the mine was oddly fragile and it wouldn't withstand further pressure. It might cause even more damage if they forced their way in and it wouldn't be too late if they searched for other entrances and dispatched men to rescue the victims.
Both sides quarreled endlessly. One party accused the other that they were unwilling to rescue Emily because they were looking to annex the entire Trade Association. The other party expressed that their decision was purely for the sake of the miners and their own safety. If they were to unblock the tunnel under such circumstances, it would equal to committing suicide and they couldn't possibly do that!
Celia didn't join their fight. Even though, strictly speaking, she should be the one who was most worried, Rhode had given her an order through the spiritual communications that her job would be done after she had spread the news that Edward had died in the accident. She was dubious of Rhode's decision and she finally understood after witnessing the scene before her. She didn't wish to get involved with such troublesome matters either.
Celia let out a long sigh. She shut her eyes and contacted another person. "Big Sister Celestina?"
"... What do you want?" Celestina answered unwillingly.
Her voice sounded as though she was still brooding over the incident last night. It was no wonder that she was upset. Her virginity had been taken away in such a horrible manner, and she was like a pitiful slave at the mercy of a Human. Celestina gritted her teeth at this thought. She had never been this humiliated in her life! If it was possible, she wished that she could commit suicide and end this nightmarish experience. But it was a pity that she couldn't do so... Because as summoned spirits, they would revive even if they were dead.
It was due to this conflict of emotions that Celestina had chosen to shut herself in the room, announcing that she was not acclimatized to the environment and what remained out of sight remained out of mind. She refused to see that annoying man.
Celia scratched her head. She was unable to figure out what exactly had happened to Celestina. She simply treated that this as just her elder sister throwing a tantrum and she got right into the main topic. "Big Sister, Master has met into some trouble in the mine and he is trapped inside right now..."
"What has it got to do with me!" Celestina interrupted furiously. "Isn't he still alive anyway? I don't believe that anything will happen to that sly, cunning bastard! Anyway, you're still around for him. I'm not feeling too well so don't disturb me anymore!"
Celestina cut off the spiritual communications without hesitation. It seemed that she was determined to not be involved with this problem... Celia sighed helplessly and she opened her eyes to the clashing crowd.
Although you sounded as though you hated Master... I feel that you still trust him a lot, Big Sister...
Celia should be glad that Celestina couldn't hear her thinking aloud.
Sneeze! Rhode rubbed his nose as he gazed into the pitch-dark cave before him. Unlike the previous cave with signs of excavations, the dense natural essence was still retained around here. Above him were full of ice-cold stalactites hanging down, and the ground beneath his feet was uneven and slippery. Rhode had long gotten used to such an environment, but Emily shambled her way behind him. It was apparent that this environment was too harsh for this young lady. But even so, Emily didn't grumble, and she moved forward with determination glinting in her eyes.
She still isn't aware, it seems...
Rhode had received news from Celia about the situation outside. As he had expected, Edward's members had gone into a frenzy after hearing that their Chairman had died. Authority was the best bait for fishes. Edward had died and Emily wasn't around to take over. What future was there left for Edward Trade Association? Also...
Rhode glanced at Emily.
After she returned to the surface, perhaps it wouldn't be the same Edward Trade Association that she was once so familiar with anymore. Will she continue to say there?
"Miss Seren?" Emily came to a stop and called out in uncertainty.
At that moment, they heard sounds of clashing weapons and human voices, and lights could be seen vaguely.
Rhode grabbed her hand with a smile. "Don't worry, come with me, Miss Emily. Everything will be fine."
Rhode lifted the torch while leading Emily with his right hand, striding forward. Soon, they reached the end of the tunnel and turned into the corner where the light had spilled in from. They saw a hopeful sight.
A land of shining magical crystals bloomed like flowers in the wide cave. In the middle of the magical crystals garden stood some fully-armed men. The men turned toward the sound of footsteps and drew their weapons hurriedly as soon as they spotted Rhode and Emily.
After all, this place was in the deep mines and it was surely strange for anyone to meet two young ladies here. To Rhode's surprise, there wasn't a single miner in this magical crystal mine! The men before them were equipped with steel armor, crossbows, with a sword and shield on their backs. They seemed like private soldiers and adventurers!
But how was this possible? The mine was a private territory and surely they wouldn't allow adventurers in, so what were they doing in the Howard Family's mine? Could it be that the Howard Family had fallen to this pathetic state that they couldn't even guard their own mine? This wasn't logical... Besides, wasn't it strange that these people appeared during this sensitive period?
"Who are you?!" One of the men bellowed immediately.
The other men raised their crossbows and aimed at Rhode and Emily. Compared to Rhode, Emily was more familiar with the Howard Family. She stepped out bravely. "Uncle Carter! It's me, Emily!"
"Emily?" The man puckered his brows and gestured to his men to lay down their weapons. He narrowed his eyes, scanned Emily from head to toe, and asked in astonishment. "It's really you. What happened? Who is that woman with you? What are you two doing here?"
"There was an accident in our mine, Uncle Carter. It collapsed and monsters attacked us. We came here because we have no choice and we didn't expect to stumble into your mine..." said Emily.
When Emily mentioned the word 'monsters', Rhode sharply detected that the man revealed a slightly strange expression. He scrutinized the man with knitted brows and he discovered that not only were these people dressed strangely, but the items in their hands also weren't mining tools. Instead, they seemed like mysterious-runes or odd ornaments that were obviously not used to repair the mine or to worship the gods.
It seems that the situation is indeed not that simple...