Rhode's voice was as calm as the afternoon breeze, but the men felt an incomparable chill shooting up their spines. Their expressions turned ashen and they sucked in a deep, cold breath in unison. The middle-aged man gulped his saliva as Rhode's razor-sharp blade dangled around his throat and the ice-cold murderous intent felt as though an invisible wild beast pressuring his body. He could even feel its claws pushing on his chest and just a little more force would puncture his chest without resistance.
"Scram," said Rhode once more.
The middle-aged man crawled to his feet and held his throat with lingering fears. He gaped and glared fiercely at Rhode, but no words came out of his frightened self. In the end, he let out a snort and fled with the other men in red and white striped uniform hurriedly.
Rhode sheathed his sword and puckered his brows after the group of men disappeared around the corner. His concerns for Lapis had lessened all this while and he didn't expect that this group of stubborn people would take action this quickly.
But Rhode wasn't mindful about offending them.
"Anne," Rhode turned around. "Inform Randolf and Joey to dispatch some trustworthy men to guard the alchemy workshop 24/7. Other than the Ocean Elves and mercenaries, no one is allowed into the workshop. If anyone dares to barge in, I allow them to take action on the intruders. Also, inform Joey to send his men and investigate the background of those people and the purpose of their arrival. Inform me immediately once he receives any information."
"Yes, Leader," Anne nodded and ran off quickly. Rhode shifted his gaze to Lapis and Christie standing by the alchemy workshop entrance. Christie revealed a delightful smile and waved back to Rhode while Lapis lowered her head worriedly. Although Lapis's actions seemed nothing more than a reserved behavior of an Alchemy Elf, Rhode sharply detected that Lapis had turned pale and judging from her rubbing her robe anxiously, he could see that she was rather tense, or even frightened.
Rhode swept a meaningful glance at Lapis and said nothing. At this moment, two glaring rays shone from above and two familiar figures emerged beside him.
"Rhode, welcome back."
"Leader, you're finally back."
The brilliance dispersed and Mini Bubble Gum and Canary appeared. Canary looked at Rhode with her signature gentle smile while Bubble pouted and glared. "Where have you been for so long, Leader? Big Sister and I were almost bored to death spending time with the bunch of NPCs. Leader, can you think of something challenging for Big Sister and I to accomplish? We won't mind heading out for adventures with you because if this continues, we are really gonna be bored to death!"
"Bubble," Canary warned.
Bubble had run up to Rhode and gesticulated while expressing her resentment. However, as soon as she picked up the pace, Canary's interruption triggered Bubble's reflex to shut her mouth and step back reluctantly. But even so, the little girl had no intentions of giving up just yet. She turned to Canary grumpily. "That's the truth, isn't it, Big Sister? Leader went to clear a dungeon by himself and left us with those boring NPCs. He also made Christie busy with designing the Stone Construct and I don't even have a playmate. Leader, when will the bunch of idiots from the Country of Darkness slaughter their way here? Might as well we... uh... uh...!"
Canary cupped her hand over Bubble's mouth swiftly and she presented her usual smile to Rhode. "Don't worry, Rhode. Bubble is just feeling a little lonely. In fact, all these while she has been getting along well with the mercenaries and there weren't any problems. I guess she was a little moody because she hasn't seen you for a while."
"I can understand that," Rhode shook his head helplessly. Although Canary and Bubble were the reason why he could leave the Fortress and roam about for adventures freely, come to think of it, he was indeed rather cruel to both of them. Even though Rhode's influential range had expanded to the entire Land of Atonement, the territories which Canary and Bubble were able to move about in were extremely limited. Due to the system restriction, they couldn't possibly go shopping in the streets of Deep Stone City. Although Rhode had arranged several matters for them to handle, girls would still be girls and they would still have desires of their own.
"Don't blame yourself, Rhode."
Canary was surely ranked among the best for being able to read Rhode's emotions. "We are all clear of our identities and Bubble was only grumbling a little. Fortunately, we know that we're not humans and are only phantoms. But isn't this a good thing? We're still better than those robots in Hollywood movies where they don't even know their true identities and treat themselves as humans... right? Bubble?"
"Uh... uh... uh!!"
"You see, Rhode. Bubble doesn't object, right? Since we don't mind, you shouldn't be feeling guilty... Bring out that spirit which you used to charm your way with girls. Anyway, you didn't feel any pressure no matter which girl you bedded with, isn't it? So why are you feeling guilty now? Could it be that you've grown?"
"Uh...! Uh...! Uh...!"
"But... If you really feel sorry, I wouldn't reject your advances, okay? By the way, you do remember the secret relaxation method that we used to have when we were together, right? As a reward for me helping you manage the Guild, I guess you wouldn't reject this little request from me, right?"
"Uh...! Uh...! Uh...!"
"It's up to you, Canary, but..." Rhode pointed forward. "... You are gonna kill Bubble if you continue to cover her mouth."
"Eh?" Canary looked down curiously and smiled before releasing her hands. Bubble broke free from her struggles and no one knew what would happen to her if Canary let loose of her hands a few seconds later. "Big Sister, you're too much! I almost died!"
"Eh? Will we still die?"
"You..." Bubble fumed and brandished her little fists in objection like an angry kitten.
"Alright alright. Now isn't the time to fight," Rhode extended his arm between both of them. "I have something which I need your help."
The same old, silver-whitish mirage extended to the limitless skies. Rhode stood idly and gazed at both of them. Canary and Bubble looked back with questioning gazes. "Leader, are you sure about that?"
"Yes," Rhode nodded firmly. And this time, even Canary puckered her brows curiously. She sized up Rhode from head to toe and shook her head. "My words may sound harsh to you, Rhode. It's true that your leveling speed is fast and we can see that you have reached level 40. But... Frankly speaking, do you really want us to pair up and fight against you alone? This isn't anything fun and I don't know what you're thinking, but no matter what, you won't be able to take a blow from us."
"Of course. The conditions are also limited," Rhode gestured. In fact, he wasn't that sick of a masochist to do this without any particular reasons. "Only combat techniques allowed and spells are prohibited. Both of you should have them, right?"
Although Canary and Bubble were spellcasters, Rhode knew that they had unique combat techniques of their own. As a holder of the Wind and Fire double elements, Canary had once mastered the "Ninth Heaven Phoenix Dance" swordsmanship to compliment with her elemental powers. On the other hand, Bubble had mastered the "Crumble Thunder" fisticuffs. However, unlike Canary, this little rascal learned it because she was genetically violent. Even if she was a Cleric, she must also become an incomparably violent one.
"That's for sure. But, Rhode, what do you want to do?"
"I suddenly feel like practicing." The corners of Rhode's mouth twitched. Although he had been to this world for so long, his player mentality hadn't been abandoned. But he wasn't able to display this side of himself before Marlene, Lize, and the others. However, it was entirely different before Canary and Bubble because they were also top players like him and they could understand how rare it was to create a swordsmanship. Even though Rhode's new swordsmanship hadn't been perfected, he hoped to polish and modify it with this combat exchange. Besides, Rhode was curious to see their reactions when they realized his new swordsmanship.
"Alright then," said Canary unhesitantly.
If it was only an exchange of combat techniques, they wouldn't possibly kill Rhode in a fatal blow even with their strength. Canary swept her backhand to the side and a sword made of pure flames emerged in her hand. Meanwhile, Bubble chuckled, clenched her tiny fists, and two marks of sacred symbols in the shape of semicircles flashed across her fists.
"This is what you asked for, Leader. Heh heh. Back then I couldn't defeat you and since you have presented yourself to me now, don't blame me for not holding back!"
Rhode looked on calmly at Bubble's taunts and extended his right arm. A holy radiance burst out and a spotlessly white sword appeared in his hand. He pointed the sword forward.
At the next moment, he disappeared in a flash.
The sleek, spotlessly white sword blade shimmered and streaked across a trail of starlight in midair. The glaring trail exploded and hundreds of earth-shattering stars blasted down at Canary and Bubble.
Bubble and Canary didn't need to avoid such an attack and they could defeat the enemy with a swing of their hands. But now, since they were only limited to using swordsmanship and fisticuffs, they couldn't save themselves from the dire situation using their favorite spells. Canary brandished her flame sword and struck out a scarlet wave of an inferno. Then, she drifted backward like a creepy paper doll and escaped from the net of earth-shattering blade rays. At this moment, the vast stars that shrouded the entire world above them shrunk in the blink of an eye and were replaced with the dazzling brilliance of spiritual blade rays striking at Canary.
"Heyah!" Bubble darted forward.
She brandished her right fist and deflected the blade ray. However, Rhode's momentum didn't stop. He flipped his wrist around and drew a crescent blade ray.
"Hahaha, is that all you got, Leader?" Bubble revealed a proud smile.
She kept her left hand and smashed the ground with the other. Boom! An explosive aura erupted from the ground under her feet and resisted Rhode's attack. Bubble adjusted her stance and was about to strike out her left fist when she let out a questionable squeal and rolled backward swiftly. A shadow had flown past above her and brushed her long hair. After dodging the ambush, Bubble stood up and pushed her crossed arms upward instantly.
Clang! The immense collision shook her feet and the powerful recoil deflected the sword shimmering in spiritual radiance. But at the same time, the shadow flew out from the ground and struck for her chest.
Canary emerged in a violent gust and her flame sword collided with the mysterious black viper. Surging flames burst out from her blade and spread toward the shadow. However, the shadow didn't avoid the flames. Instead, it flipped around and fled swiftly to strike out a ghastly trail of spiritual blade ray. At the same time, the countless stars that filled the sky shone brightly as though they were warning for an incoming wave of attack.
What is happening?
Canary and Bubble were aghast.