"You're asking for death!"
Anne bellowed and pulled a steel chain connected to her shield with her left hand which expanded the shield swiftly and roared a violent gust. The ambushers didn't expect Anne to react this quickly. They had pounced in midair and couldn't dodge her retaliation at all. They smashed into the shield and were flung away like ragdolls.
The crowd surrounding the trio had dispersed as soon as the commotion began and they observed from a distance away. The ambushers were unusually strong. Although they were struck away by Anne's shield, they got onto their feet swiftly and brandished their daggers forward like quick, slithering vipers.
"Eh?" Anne shrieked in horror.
Even though she didn't cast any spiritual powers into her attack, her raw strength and the weight of the shield should have been enough to at least cripple them. She didn't expect that these men were as capable as cockroaches. They can still get up after my shield hit them? Something's off!
However, Anne didn't lose her calm. Although she disliked leading a team, her individual strength was exceptionally outstanding and she had plenty of experiences in battle. Anne retreated hurriedly and guarded Christie and the little mermaid against the ambushers. At the same time, she swung out her shield again, but this time, the ambushers dodged nimbly and hastened their speed forward. Two of them leaped over Anne's attack and wielded their daggers to Christie and the little mermaid.
"Got them!" One of the men exclaimed excitedly.
Christie shrieked in fear, but even so, she gritted her teeth and spread out her arms to protect the little mermaid. However, she didn't notice that when she extended her arms, a strange shadow emerged in her right hand and shattered into thin air in the blink of an eye.
At the same time, Snow finally displayed her strength as a summoned spirit. Although she had just been created by Rhode, she was nonetheless a summoned spirit. She swam in the water ball at lightning speed and pushed her hands forward as though she was splashing water. Then, whirling, semi-crystalized radiance splattered gracefully and solidified into an ice crystal barrier from the fluttering snowflakes.
The barrier blocked the ambusher from piercing further and their razor-sharp blades scratched the barrier that was whirling non-stop. The two ambushers frowned at their missed opportunity, sprung backwards, and brandished their daggers forward from the other direction.
Clang! A dagger emanating with shimmering radiance emerged before them and resisted their attacks. Then, Joey flitted by with a mysterious grin. "Aiya, this won't do, Brothers. I won't let you touch this young lady here."
"You...!" The ambusher was taken aback.
As a Thief class, he knew the dangers of letting someone sneaking to his side. Moreover, this young man actually possessed such formidable strength. However, before the ambusher displayed his astonished expression, Joey had thrust his foot onto his stomach. Then, Joey somersaulted to the ground and swept a glance to Christie and Anne with a grin. "Aiya, sorry for coming this late, Anne, Christie, and this adorable Miss Mermaid."
"Ah... Joey..." Christie heaved a sigh of relief, but the little mermaid didn't have a favorable impression on this frivolous Thief and she drew a distance away from him.
"You're quite fast this time, Joey," Anne took a step back and guarded Christie and the little mermaid with Joey from the other side. She clasped her steel shield and said. "Anne thought you ran off to a pub for drinks."
"Heh, that's not right, Anne. I'm working right now. Working." Joey revealed an awkward smile as he tightened the grip around the liquor flask hanging by his waist and waved his dagger. Back then, after Joey had dispatched his men to tail the group of Alchemists, they discovered that they had been secretly contacting someone, which Joey quickly reported to Rhode. Then, Rhode ordered Joey to continue monitoring and find out their exact numbers and background, which was why Joey was following the group of men from far behind. Joey thought that this group of people was here to inquire information about the fortress, but he didn't expect them to lay their hands on Christie and Anne... He didn't know if he should treat them as courageous or dumb.
"No matter what, help Anne to keep them back! These people are quite strange!"
"Don't worry, Anne," Joey said relaxedly. He swept a glance at the ambushers and shrugged. "Our reinforcements are here."
Boom! An ear-deafening explosion numbed their ears and the aggressive ambushers fell flat to the ground as though an invisible large hand had swatted on their backs. Their faces flushed and pumping veins popped up on their foreheads. Faint magical radiance flickered on their bodies, but it didn't seem to be effective.
At this moment, Canary descended from above with her signature smile. She rushed to Christie and the little mermaid's side and scanned them from head to toe. "Are you hurt, Christie?"
Christie smiled and shook her head in response. "No... Thank you... Sister... Canary..."
"Glad to hear that," Canary's smile turned even gentler. She extended her hand and stroked Christie's long hair lightly. "Don't worry, you did well, Christie. You even tried to protect the people around you under such a dangerous situation. You're really brave... You're indeed Rhode's..."
Canary paused abruptly. However, she simply nodded and turned around to face the ambushers. "Is this all of them?"
"Uh... Y-Yes, Madam Canary," Joey said with a pale expression.
Even though this Grand Mage was smiling widely, Joey had clearly spotted the ice-cold, merciless glint in her eyes, which left him shivering and gulping his saliva. Canary looked to the side and extended her right arm. Then, the ambushers who were on the ground flew up to the sky and crashed into one another. Canary swung her arm slightly and tossed them onto the empty field in a stack. She clapped the filthy dust off her palms. "I'll leave them to you. Dismantle their equipment and wait for further instructions from Rhode. As for the others, Bubble has gone to settle them."
Dasos took down his monocle and leaned back on the sofa, letting out a long sigh. The Alchemists around him were also exhausted. It wasn't easy negotiating with Rhode and Dasos didn't expect this young man to be that demanding. Moreover, he was extremely familiar with the operations of the Alchemist Association and was relatively sure of his judgment, leaving Dasos without a chance to act stupid. He didn't have an easy time wrangling with Rhode over the alchemy materials either. If Rhode didn't give up a little at the final stages, perhaps both parties couldn't come to an agreement.
But now, everything had finally ended.
"Alright then, that settles it, Mr. Rhode," Dasos raised his spirits and lifted the material list. "According to our agreement, we will provide you with half the materials first. After we have received the antidote and verified its effects, we will provide you with the other half... Of course, this transaction has to go through the review and confirmation of the Church. Is everything accurate as to what we have discussed?"
"Of course," Rhode lifted his head and nodded.
Dasos felt rather ridiculous at his response, but he didn't dare to speak anymore. After all, the wrangling over the alchemy material was enough to bleed them dry and if Rhode suddenly thought of something new, he would need to... The Chairman was in a critical condition and they didn't have the time for chit chat. Dasos stood to his feet. "Alright then, Mr Rhode. There's no time to lose. Don't you think we should..."
"Hold on a moment," Rhode extended his arm and gestured.
Dasos' heart skipped a beat. "I-Is there any other problems? Mr Rhode?"
"If I recall correctly, Master Dasos, you said that this investigation team that you led represents the Alchemist Association Headquarters, right?"
"That's... Of course."
Although Dasos didn't know why Rhode chose to verify this question again at this moment, he eventually nodded. Then, Rhode handed over another sheet of paper. Dasos took over the paper and scanned through the contents. He was flabbergasted. "Mr. Rhode, what do you mean by this!"
"It's simple," Rhode said with his usual expression. "This is a ransom, Master Dasos."
"That's right," Rhode lowered his voice. "Alchemists from your association have attempted to attack and harm my subordinates in my fortress. If your association isn't willing to hand over this sum of money, be prepared to find their corpses hanging on our fortress walls."
"What did you say?!" Dasos exclaimed.
The sun had set and colors of the night shrouded the entire sky. Rhode stood on the steps of the fortress and gazed down at the group of men who were trussed up. Among them were the ones who ambushed Christie and those who had tried to barge into the alchemy workshop. They cowered miserably under the flames and the radiance of magical crystals. Dasos looked on with an ashen expression behind Rhode and stared at the bunch of idiots. "Master Dasos, allow me to verify. They belong to the Alchemist Association, right?"
"They..." Dasos hesitated for a moment. Frankly speaking, he didn't wish to admit that they were. However, he couldn't bring himself to deny the fact. Among the group of Alchemists, the leader, Thomas, was extremely talented and well-liked by the higher-ups of the Headquarters. However, his weaknesses was that he was overly proud and domineering, and he was simply considered one of many eccentric Alchemists.
As for the ambushers Rhode had mentioned, Dasos was also familiar with them. They were a part of an Elite Alchemy Equipment Battle Team, the 'Egrets'. Dasos finally understood why the Headquarters dared to barge their way here. With the 'Egrets' backing them up, Guilds indeed would have a hard time against them. But...
Dasos glanced with lingering fear at the smiling young lady in Mage robe and the fuming little girl with two ponytails in a Cleric robe standing left and right below the steps.
This time... They really messed with the wrong person.
"Yes, Mr. Rhode, they're indeed members of our Alchemist Association." Dasos let out a helpless sigh.
He could imagine that if he denied the fact, Rhode would surely take actions against them and he would see their corpses swaying to the wind on the fortress walls the next morning. Although Dasos cursed this group of idiots who had spoiled his plans, he couldn't possibly not extend a helping hand to them. No matter what, the 'Egrets' were an Elite team of the Alchemist Association and Thomas was a highly-anticipated, talented figure. It would be a mistake that couldn't be made up if they were to lose them here.
"So then, Master Dasos, you should know what to do now."
"Er... Yes, Mr. Rhode. I will inform the association immediately to handle this situation," Dasos hung his head dispiritedly. So many things had happened in a day and he was mentally and physically exhausted. He couldn't even care less about this group of bastards... Can't they take actions after investigating?!
"Dasos! How can you listen to the nonsense of these barbaric mercenaries!" The tied up middle-aged Alchemist berated and glared furiously at Dasos and Rhode. "And you! You shameless mercenary. How dare you treat me this way! Do you know who I am? I'm Thomas Kruvo! I'm the number one talent of the Alchemist Association Headquarters and you have offended the entire Alchemist Association! The association will destroy you and your useless Guild! Who do you think you are!? You weak little sissy!"
Smack! Bubble dashed forward and slapped his cheek so hard that the birds chirping on the tree branches flew away fearfully. Thomas flinched and collapsed to the ground.
"Shut your damn mouth, you NPC! Who do you think you are to scold Leader? I stomp, stomp, stomp on you bloody idiot! Just a little NPC who isn't worth a single point of EXP actually dared to spout nonsense in front of Leader?!" Bubble berated and thrust her foot on Thomas. Although she was young, her strength was incredibly powerful as a being in the Legendary Stage. Thomas wailed desperately and the surrounding crowd either watched on silently or were worried about their fates, so no one went up to stop Bubble's violent tortures. On the other hand, Dasos summoned up his courage to request for mercy after hearing Thomas' miserable shrieks as though he was a pig being slaughtered. "Er... Mr. Rhode..."
"Alright, Bubble, that's enough. It won't be fun anymore if you kill him," Rhode said.
Bubble launched a final kick to Thomas' back and faced the night sky with folded arms.
Rhode turned to Dasos. "Master Dasos, this is all that I can do. I can guarantee their safety until the Alchemist Association pays the ransom and compensates us for the losses. If your association doesn't respond within the indicated timing, I will not waste another drop of my precious foodstuff to feed a group of worthless crap. Do you understand?"
"I-I understand, Mr Rhode."
"Good," Rhode nodded and turned to Joey. "Joey, dismantle all their equipment and throw them into the water jail. As for that fellow..." Rhode gazed meaningfully at the moaning middle-aged Alchemist who had curled up into a ball. His face was no longer as arrogant as he was when he first tried to barge into the alchemy workshop. "Lock him into the dark cell."
The torch flames flickered in the pitch-dark, damp prison. The friction on the hinges of the heavy iron door let out ear-piercing screeches as it opened and the mercenaries tossed Thomas into the cell like a dead dog. Bam! The iron door slammed shut behind him.
"That damn bastard!" Thomas crawled to his feet with clenched fists. He gritted his teeth as his entire body was filled with bruises and pain. Thomas had never been this humiliated. A talented Alchemist like him was actually treated like a prisoner! This is ridiculous! That damn, barbaric bastard! I will give that sissy a taste of the Alchemist Association's wrath after I leave this place!
Suddenly, a burst of deep chuckles sounded from the dark corners of his cell. "Hey, who is this? A newbie? Brothers, we have a new companion."
Five to six exceptionally burly mercenary-looking men emerged from the darkness. Judging from their attire, they seemed to be locked up for committing a certain crime. Thomas was disgusted by their rough faces and the glaring tattoos on their bodies. He acted as though he didn't see them and turned around to let out a grunt proudly. The group of men burst out into laughter. "Heh? Didn't expect that he's got a huge temper..."
One of the men tried to place his hand on Thomas' shoulder, but Thomas struck his hand away. "Get away from me, you barbarians!"
Thomas turned around and glared fiercely at the man. He had never felt this powerless. He didn't have his alchemy equipment, potions, and anything. At this moment, he was nothing more than an ordinary, defenseless human. But, so what if he has the equipment? Thomas remembered back then when they were waiting for good news from the 'Egrets' outside the fortress, the petite and arrogant little girl descended from the sky and wiped them all out with a few hand gestures.
Could it be that strength proves everything in this world?
I refuse to accept!
I refuse to accept!!
The man looked at Thomas' vengeful eyes and let out a chuckle. "This isn't up to you to decide, Kid. Brothers, get him!"
Two other prisoners charged forward and pinned Thomas to the wall by his arms. Even though Thomas was powerless, he hadn't given up just yet.
"What are you trying to do? Get lost, you insolent bastards! Do you know who I am? I'm..." Thomas choked on his words abruptly as his pants were pulled down by the prisoners! "W-What are you trying to do? What are you trying to do?!"
Thomas didn't receive an answer. Shortly after, a pair of thick arms began to roam his body. "Heh heh, not bad... Soft flesh feels so good to the touch... I wonder where that rascal managed to find such a pampered son of a wealthy family... Heh, this feels so much better than those bastards..."
"W-W-What are you trying to do!? Let me go! Let me go! I'm a man!" Thomas couldn't hold in the fear in his heart anymore. He struggled to break free frantically, but he couldn't escape from their clutches. The man laughed cheekily at his snarls. "Of course I know that you're a man, Kid. I wouldn't even want you if you weren't a man... You must be great to have such fair skin. Come, let me show you a whole new world."
"What?! N-No, get lost... Ahhh!" Thomas waved about frantically and at this moment, a thick, warm object penetrated his body from the back.
In an instant, every word that came out of his mouth became ear-piercing screams.