After defeating a few Giant Skeletons, the group slowed down even more.
During the briefing, Rhode had warned them that they were rushing against time and had to hurry up, so everyone assumed that they would be running all over the place defeating enemy after enemy then moving on to the next.
But that wasn't the case.
The whole group moved as slow as a turtle. Whenever they took three steps forward, they would take two steps back. It was painfully slow - even slower than taking a casual jog in the forest. But when encountering an enemy, Rhode would suddenly speed up and kill them as fast as lightning, roughly finishing the fight within thirty seconds before quickly hiding and repeat the process on the next enemy once more.
To be honest, these kinds of guerrilla tactics weren't well-received by some in the group - it could even be said to be downright embarrassing.
The half-elf snorted in disdain when she saw Rhode stop abruptly and proceeded to sneak around like a criminal.
"Just look at that man creeping around. That's so not impressive. Leader is obviously much more honorable than him."
"Anne thinks that you're full of nonsense."
Of course, Anne had a differing opinion.
"If not because of Anne's leader, with your inadequate abilities, it would be impossible for you to defeat these Giant Skeletons.
"Hmph. It's not like I would've followed this stupid plan to come here in the first place."
The half-elf couldn't care less about Anne's retort.
"If our leader was in charge of the group, we would've gotten out of here already."
"Since you think of it that way, you don't have to follow Anne and the rest."
Anne's lips curled, her eyes cold.
"You only know how to flap your lips. If you guys had the ability to escape by yourselves, your leader wouldn't have chosen to follow my leader's command."
"Don't joke around. Our leader is only following him because you guys heeded our distress call. We aren't ungrateful brats."
The half-elf turned around in a huff, refusing to speak any more. She stared at the dark, eerie valley which brought an unknown chill to her but even so, she refused to look at the person beside her.
Anne didn't want to stop though. She glared at the half-elf and took a deep breath.
"So for the sake of pride, you will even abandon your life. Such foolishness. You really deserved to be trapped here."
That string of words somehow caused the half-elf to snap. She couldn't keep her calm any longer and glared angrily at Anne. Anne, however, also didn't back down and returned the favor.
Anne still maintained a smile on her face, but the half-elf thought it was terrifying. She felt her face turn cold as though the one staring at her wasn't a human but a dangerous beast instead.
Suddenly, the face before her warped into a shape of a ferocious monster with razor-sharp fangs. The half-elf immediately grabbed her dagger out of instinct, but luckily her rationality told her that it wasn't smart to make a move at this time.
"What are you guys doing!"
Marlene's voice broke the tense atmosphere. She stopped walking and turned towards the two girls behind her.
In some ways, Marlene acted as the mercenary group's vice-leader. She would take care of matters that Rhode couldn't afford to waste time on. While Lize and Old Walker were also senior members of the group, one of them didn't dare to take charge and the other just didn't have the patience to manage the group.
Since Marlene saw the hostile atmosphere between the two girls behind her, she certainly couldn't sit idly.
Marlene shifted her gaze to the mercenaries next to them who appeared as though nothing had happened. Indeed, it was the right decision for them not to poke their noses into places that they didn't belong as both groups ultimately walked a different path.
"Sister Marlene, she..."
"We are in a dangerous situation right now."
Marlene interrupted Anne. While she wasn't exactly close to Anne, she could somewhat figure out Anne's peculiar train of thought.
Usually, when normal people interact, it is because they have something in common or their personality matches with one another. Even if they can't get along, at least they will choose to maintain a reasonably passive relationship. Marlene is a good example. Even if the man in front of her is as ugly as a pig, if he were her friend or relative, she would still display a polite smile. That was how 'mature' people conversed with one another.
Anne, however, was totally different. She didn't care whether her actions would bring her any benefit or not. She simply chose her friends based on instinct... like an animal. To put it cutely, like a puppy, it would wag its tail at a person it fancied even if he or she didn't give it any food. On the flip side, it would bark at the people it disliked even if it were the owner who fed it every day.
What a headache...
This was the reason why Marlene didn't bother to persuade the both of them to stop quarreling because it was pointless. Besides, she was more concerned about other more important things right now...
"Whether you guys like it or not, we've already come this far and there's no turning back. We have to keep moving forward, so I hope both of you can focus on the task at hand."
Without saying anything else, Marlene turned her head to the front and continued walking. The displeasure on the half-elf's face was evident, but she still chose to keep silent as she was dealing with a Mage. In this continent, Mages were a dangerous group of people that shouldn't be provoked. Rather than to put herself at unnecessary risk, it was better for her to shut up.
Rhode didn't notice the small dispute. Right now, he was busy hiding behind a boulder as he studied the area before him with a gloomy expression.
They had already spent five hours clearing the Giant Skeletons one by one and the sky was still dark. There was no difference between day and night along the borders between the Country of Darkness and Light as the whole region was mostly in perpetual darkness. But that wasn't why Rhode frowned.
Right now, there were two Giant Skeletons left in the valley who were fairly close to each other.
Previously, Rhode could successfully lure the Giant Skeletons one at the time because they were far apart, but these two were different. Like gatekeepers, one stood on the left and one on the right with their backs facing one another. Although the two Giant Skeletons still did wander off a little from their positions, they still weren't far apart enough for Rhode to employ the same tactic as before.
This was difficult.
Even though the group was fairly well-versed in fighting Giant Skeletons by now, facing two at the same time was a different scenario altogether.
If it were only two Giant Skeletons... then perhaps it was still possible. With Marlene in the rear utilizing her powerful magic ability supporting him and Celia, he could see himself taking down one Giant Skeleton. Then Sereck could take on the other and everything would be fine and dandy, but...
Unfortunately, the reality wasn't that simple.
Rhode knew what was behind that valley...
The Death Knight.
He knew for sure that if Marlene cast a magic spell at this distance, the Death Knight would immediately detect it. High-level undead were exceptionally sensitive towards surges of magical energy, which was why even if they used Silence, it would be impossible to escape detection.
Judging from the past battles with single Giant Skeletons, Rhode knew that the group wouldn't be able to finish off those two Giant Skeletons in time before the Death Knight arrived. Besides, even if they could deal with the two skeletons in time, they still had to confront the Death Knight immediately afterward without a rest.
Frankly, Rhode was very reluctant to confront the Death Knight directly. Although its level was lower than Sereck, it was merely a five to six level difference. This gap was simply negligible when the battle was between humans and undead monsters.
For example, even if a knife stabbed into the torso of the Death Knight, nothing much would happen. But what would happen if Sereck was the one being stabbed by the knife?
It would be best if he'd quickly penned down his last words to the woman he loved throughout his life.
Rhode's original plan was to get Sereck to hold the Death Knight's attention while the others escape, then he and Sereck would quickly leave afterward once everyone safely exited Silent Plateau. Once they left the area, the Death Knight wouldn't be able to follow them. This method was way safer than attempting to defeat the Death Knight.
However, no matter how hard he tried, he knew his plan was clearly going to fail. If the Death Knight came to them instead, then based on the terrain, the new plan would be called 'one man hold back a thousand man army,' and that 'one man' would be referring to the Death Knight.
They were in a narrow valley right now, which meant that the Death Knight would totally bottleneck their way forward if it were drawn here. But Rhode didn't have an alternative; he couldn't forcefully proceed, yet it was also impossible for him to turn back.
What to do?
It wasn't as if there wasn't a way out, After defeating the Giant Skeletons, all he had to do was to use a bait to lure the Death Knight so that the rest could escape. As long as that person could hold on, Rhode and Sereck would immediately rush back and fight the Death Knight together, at that point, everything would be just as planned.
But who will be able to it?
Rhode turned around and looked at the group.
Both Marlene and Lize were casters, so asking them to be bait was equivalent to sending them to die. Sereck possessed the most strength; thus, his role was to deal with one of the Giant Skeletons. Even so, it would be difficult to say whether he could defeat the Giant Skeleton before the arrival of the Death Knight. In previous battles, Rhode and Celia helped him to divert the monster's attention and Sereck would deal the final blow, but now he will have no one to help him, so he had to figure it out by himself.
Old Walker? Kudla and his mercenaries?
What a joke. These guys can't even block ordinary undead. To ask them to tank the Death Knight was simply sending them to their deaths. Furthermore, Rhode's objective was to bring them back safely, if they died here then why would he even bother coming here in the first place.
Rhode went silent for a moment; then he waved his hand to the back.
"Anne, come here."
"Leader, what's the matter?"
Hearing his call, Anne immediately ran towards him. Her two beady eyes focused only on him, the only thing missing right now was a tail wagging behind her...
Ahh, she does really look like...
"I have a plan."
Rhode said as he walked closer towards Anne. Then, he lowered his body and whispered. After a while, he raised his head and looked at her with seriousness.
"Do you understand the gravity of what I've said? Are you willing to take on this duty?"
Anne did not hesitate and nodded quickly.
"I will do anything leader ask me to do."
If it was the usual, Rhode wouldn't have bothered to say anything more, but this time, perhaps because of the severity of the situation, he frowned and said, "The Death Knight is about level 35. It has a strength close to a Commander. If you think that this is too much for you, please let me know now and I won't have you take on this risk. If you can't handle this but still insist on going, the risk will be even larger."
"I understand, leader."
"But I believe this is the reason why I am here - because I'm confident."
Looking at her clear eyes, Rhode went silent. He studied the girl before him for a while but still didn't understand where she got that confidence from.
Rhode wasn't good at woman psychology. Besides, he had only interacted with her for only a few days.
But still, that was no reason to send her off to die.
In the game, if the party's tank died, then so be it. They could easily resurrect later and have another go again. In this continent, everything changed. There were no second chances. Rhode didn't want to send her out, but now it looked like there were no other choice.
Meanwhile, Lize and Marlene observed the two of them quietly at a distance. They were feeling uneasy because they didn't know what Rhode was whispering about. But since Rhode didn't attack, they knew that there were some changes to the plan.
"I will finish it as soon as possible. But before that, you need to hold on."
Rhode patted Anne's shoulder.
In the face of the possibility of death, the girl revealed her usual energetic smile.
"No worries, leader, I'll be fine."