“Mr. Rhode! We found it!!”
Hearing that squeaky voice, Rhodes immediately looked back and saw Metz standing in front of the church. He held a small but finely-crafted statue in his hand. It was of a gargoyle in a curled position. The ruby eyes shone a hint of red light. But more importantly, it was the control item!
Metz’s loud shout had also attracted the attention of gargoyles. As alchemist creations, they certainly knew what he had in his hands. Reactivity, the two gargoyles immediately shifted their direction and bolted towards Metz.
Seeing the two terrifying monsters rushing toward him, Metz let out a loud wail. If he was any faster, he would have turned and fled, but by then Rhode's voice had already reached his ears.
“Give it to me!”
Nervously, Metz looked at the two vicious stone monsters with a shaking trepidation. Fearing that he'd be ripped to shreds the next moment. But somehow, he mustered the will to not completely flee as he threw the dark stone statue.
It must be said that the merchant's aim was quite terrible. Rather, it was absolutely pathetic. The statue curved and flew in a completely different direction. Maybe it was never intended for Rhode at all. The gargoyles zoomed past in the sky. If some unsuspecting people saw this scene, it would seem like this fat merchant was throwing random items to fend off a couple of muggers. The lead gargoyle, seeing the great present in front of it, outstretched its hand to grasp it.
But just when it was about to succeed, a minute yet sharp breeze flew from beneath it. The Soaring Spirit Bird, in its fluctuating shape, solidified and abruptly grabbed the statue.
This was the last of Rhode's strength. He had to withdraw his sword, but at the same time, he raised his right hand and snapped his fingers.
Carrying the plucked statue, the Soaring Spirit Bird passed gracefully through the air and raced towards Rhode.
The gargoyle running on the ground jumped and spun in mid-air. The thick and swift tail slammed into the Soaring Spirit Bird. Although it didn't do much damage, it disturbed the clumsy mass of elemental wind surrounding it.
But the turquoise bird still persisted and tried to flap its wings towards its summoner.
But it still did not reach its destination.
A stone claw descended from above and penetrated the ball of condensed wind. The bird could no longer maintain the energy necessary to form its body. Instantly, the bird evaporated into nothingness. The black statue that was held in the bird beak flew out, appearing before the two dark figures trailing it. Stretching their claws, they reached for the falling statue. Until it finally fell, softly and steadily into the hands of Rhode.
[Acquired Gargoyle Control Item, Appraisal Completed]
Rhode’s voice was not loud or even soft. But within the shadows, the two gargoyles became dull and their red eyes were extinguished. Their outstretched limbs froze into solid stone.
The statues slammed into the ground and landed quietly not far behind Rhode. After losing the magical enchantment, their bodies instantly became less resistant than before. Upon collision with the ground, their bodies shattered into large chunks. The sound of crumbling signaled the end of that struggle.
Only now could Rhode feel relieved. His whole body now felt increasingly weak and tired. The excessive consumption of mana made his legs feel like twigs. Even his fingers of his right hand struggled to hold the stone statue. On the surface, however, Rhode maintained a calm expression. This stillness lasted for only a few moments until he slipped the statue into his pocket.
After a brief instant, Leiya and Metz both ran over and looked at him with worried and anxious expressions.
Rhode managed to take a deep breath. He really wanted to sit and rest for a while, but his experience told him that it wasn’t a good idea to allow himself to fall. In the game, overdrawing mana resulted in a variety of symptoms. He certainly didn’t want to test how severe they could be in reality.
Fortunately, the shadows of the ghosts no longer encircled them in the dense fog. It seems they were unable to approach and finally left.
Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve given up, it’s enough to satisfy Rhode’s needs. Perhaps Leiya and Metz have noticed his strange actions, but Rhode was not someone to incite unnecessary concern. Ever since he headed his first team, he learned that keeping clam was a pillar of leadership. Worrying about trivial things only further sowed the seeds of worry. If he complains because of small difficulties or forgets about a strong enemy, it will not be a positive influence for his subordinates. Even though Rhode is no longer the guild president of tens of thousands of players, this habit is still ingrained within him.
But regardless, it has already shown its merits. Rhode’s cool exterior allowed Leiya and Metz to feel some relief. As they had rummaged through the dust, they held a persistent fear. After all, they could constantly hear the explosions and collisions occurring outside. Leiya worked very hard, but Metz was undoubtedly better at appraising items. He finally found this small statue in an obscure corner, and his luck was really quite good. If it were a moment later, perhaps the outcome would have been drastically different.
Rhode’s original plan was to pass through the Misty Ruins at the fastest speed, but the appearance of two gargoyles forced him to alter that thought. These two gargoyles had almost completely consumed his power and without proper rest and recovery, it would be an even more dangerous battle. Rhode decided upon making camp in the church and to resume the next day. Here, he can maintain his peace of mind. In the game, this church was a monster-free area that players often used to rest or distribute loot.
Although Metz looked somewhat displeased at the dark and eerie church, he had no right to object to Rhode’s decision.
The sky darkens.
The dense mist still lingered outside the church. If someone looked through the window, they would see nothing except a grey tone. Within the church, three people were sitting quietly. The decayed benches and tables were all used for the fire before them. However, there still was a hint of chilliness as the cold wind seeped through the broken windows and cracks in the wall.
Leiya carefully reached out and took apart the bandages that covered Rhode’s left shoulder and chest. Her fine and sharp brow furrowed slightly.
“It broke open again, Mr. Rhode.”
“Yes, I know.”
He simply nodded and said nothing more. In fact, this wasn’t the first time. After all, Rhode was constantly fighting. Although he takes into consideration his injury when fighting, it’s difficult to completely refuse to use his left arm. Particularly if he encounters any annoying problems. With his constant battles, it was likely that his wounds would open and crack from time to time. According to Leiya, such a wound would typically only take two or three days to heal. However, from all this aggravation, it may take ten or more days.
But perhaps it’s not unexpected for girls to be so concerned. Leiya would still change the bandage daily, so as to avoid infections. Fortunately, as a Healer, she mainly relies on magic and needs less baggage to haul around.
As the bandages were unraveled, the wounds of battle revealed themselves. The mere sight of them left the observers breathless. Metz even felt a lingering numbness from his own chest as he imagined the pain of such attacks. Three deep claw-marks, the length of arms, ran across Rhode’s chest. The rest of him was covered in bloody and blackened scars. Many of which were opened back up due to the fierce fighting with the gargoyles.
Leiya took out her handkerchief and poured some clear water onto it from the kettle. Pressing it on Rhode’s chest, it caused his body to subconsciously twitch and shiver. Even Metz dared not look back at the disturbing sight.
“Ah, I’m sorry, is it painful?”
“It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”
Faced with Leiya’s inquiries, Rhode shook his head. Although with was somewhat painful, it had not reached an unbearable level.
When she heard Rhode’s answer, Leiya calmed down slightly as she continued to wipe the wounds. At the same time, the young girl began to secretly glance up at the man slightly younger than herself.
Honestly, when they first met, her impression of Rhode was nothing noteworthy. He was very beautiful and had very pale skin. Enough to justify her assumption of his noble background. And so, it was a pleasant surprise to know that Rhode’s attitude was not as arrogant as other nobles she’s seen before. But, even so, she didn’t take this person too seriously. After all, this man looked like a woman. Furthermore, he had a physique much slimmer and delicate than a fighter’s.
But eventually, Leiya’s view changed.
Unlike most other aristocratic children, this young man is quite well versed in fighting. Not even inferior to her own group leader. Adding to that, his character is very calm. He radiates a feeling of serenity and of a natural leader. Even if there's danger, he doesn’t panic. Unlike his feeble appearance, he’s really quite strong.
Leiya also knew how painful this kind of injury was. She treated many people on the battlefield. Many veterans, who wouldn’t frown at the sight of death, would yell from wounds such as these. But Rhode never muttered anything. Not even a low and muffled roar. It’s strange, is he even human?
Leiya’s hand subconsciously stopped.
What am I thinking? Ah, it’s wrapped so messily!
The girl shook her head and left behind all these wacky thoughts in her head. Choosing to refocus on her task at hand.
Rhode didn’t notice the strangeness of the girl beside him. His attention was focused on his right hand. In the center of his palm, two gems emitted a dark reddish gleam.
This was one of the trophies that Rhode had obtained from this battle. The gargoyles' heart.