Everyone was dead tired after entering the forest. However, Rhode didn't allow them to stop and rest. Instead, he carried the Cleric who couldn't walk all the way until he found a spring. It was only until then did he let everyone take a breather.
Finally! They were allowed to relax. Many of them slumped to the ground, refusing to move an inch. Old Walker whistled in a low voice as he sat on a rock to relax.
Sereck and Anne were the only two who were unaffected by fatigue. Both of them stared silently at their surroundings and at that one person who was running back and forth to distribute rations from time to time.
"How much longer do you need before you can recover your power?"
Rhode asked as he sat on a rock next to the Clerics. Since this wasn't a game, their HP and SP couldn't be replenished by merely sitting around, eating bread and drinking water. Soul Power was something that came from one's soul; perhaps it can be said to be similar to stamina. However, the only difference compared to stamina was that if one runs out of Soul Power, one could face permanent disablement — or even death.
In the game, once the SP was low, the character's stats would drop by half and if they couldn't find a place to restore their SP, well, they would soon become a non-combat liability.
In his current world, Rhode found out that it followed the same law. That was why casters like Marlene and Lize rarely used their Soul Power. They knew that once they couldn't keep up with loss of Soul Power, they were going to die.
"W-we need at least half an hour..."
Rhode frowned. That was too slow! One must realize that this place was nowhere safer than the battlefield from before. He didn't voice it out as he wanted to keep the morale strong, but he knew that the evil spirits in this place were different from the ones before. They would lurk in the shadows and attack at any moment. Their spirit characteristic made them difficult to catch, and the group would need the help of Clerics — especially Lize's Holy Light to hunt them efficiently. Alas, at this moment, Lize was leaning on Marlene's shoulder with her eyes closed. Rhode knew that she wouldn't be able to recover in a short period.
With so many delays... can those people still be saved?
Sereck caught Rhode frowning to himself.
Rhode raised his head and saw the Swordsmaster smiling at him.
"I'm just a little bit worried that we wasted too much time."
Rhode shook his head.
Hearing him say that, Sereck couldn't help but break into a fit of laughter. Then he shook his head helplessly at the young man and remained silent for a moment. He just didn't know what to say at that moment!
In his opinion, what Rhode did was already perfect. From the time after entering Silent Plateau until now, their group didn't even take more than four hours. Even the battle on the prairie can be said to reflect his exemplary performance. There were neither any casualties nor injuries... only a bunch of tired people. Perhaps no one in the whole of Deep Stone City could match Rhode's skills in commanding.
When he saw Rhode frown, he thought that he was worried about some big problem. But in fact he was just disappointed because the group's progress was too slow?
If word of this spread out, many mercenary group leaders would ashamed of themselves...
"I think that what you've done is already quite good."
Sereck didn't know what was Rhode thinking about, so he smiled and tried to console Rhode by patting him on the shoulder.
"Even when I'm alone, it's basically impossible for me to reach this place in such a short time. The fact that you can bring all of them here safely proves how strong you are as a mercenary group leader. At least in Deep Stone City, I've not seen one as reliable as you. But what makes me curious is..."
Sereck narrowed his eyes and scrutinized the young man in front of him.
"When did you figure out that the Cleric's Divine Brilliance could weaken the undead? It shouldn't be something that you've just thought of recently right?"
"When I was in the Eastern Plains, I've fought countless of the undead. As you already may know, in some situations, people have no choice but to try various ways to try and survive."
Rhode conjured a lie without batting an eyelid. But not all of his words were without basis. The Eastern Plain was situated along the border of the Country of Darkness. Though it might be the most secluded place in the Munn Kingdom, the conflict against the Country of Darkness never stopped. Due to the harsh nature and survival conditions, that place gave birth to a special class — Soul Hunter.
These warriors grew up in the Eastern Plain and can be said to have acquired a multitude of experiences when dealing with the undead. Stories told that when they first wield a sword, their first kill would be an undead. The battle between them lasted for a century, but both sides remained at a deadlock. Eventually, everything was solved in private, so the conflict didn't blow out of proportions.
Sereck nodded. He didn't doubt Rhode's explanation since he knew Rhode's background. Instead, he was curious about why someone like him would leave that secluded place. Everyone in the Munn Kingdom knew that the Eastern Plains were a mysterious and solitary bunch. They didn't trade with other towns, and it was difficult for an outsider to enter their territory. They just stayed in their land and minded their own business, not caring about the outside world.
Sometimes Sereck wondered whether Rhode was that kind of person, but seeing it now with his own eyes, he realized that Rhode and the people of the Eastern Plain in his imagination had a vast discrepancy.
"I've heard rumors of the brave warriors of the Eastern Plain who battled against the undead day and night. Seeing one in person now... seems like the rumors are true."
Sereck was smart and chose to not linger on this topic any further. He shrugged and scanned the surroundings once more.
"This isn't a safe place."
Clearly, the Swordmaster could sense danger lurking in the forest.
"I know, but we can't do anything about it."
Rhode furrowed his brows. Honestly, he didn't want to reveal too much of his power because that generally wasn't a good thing. But now it appeared that he had no choice as the group's overall strength was at an all-time low.
Using Holy Element power is the easiest to deal with this situation, then...
Rhode stood up.
"Where are you going?"
"I'm going to find a friend; I will come back right away.''
Sereck didn't ask further as he knew that Rhode didn't plan to explain anything. As a Swordmaster, he admired Rhode's attitude.
Old Walker, Marlene and the rest also planned to stand up and follow him, but Rhode quickly stopped them, gesturing them to sit down. Then he told them that he had something to do and will come back shortly.
After watching Rhode leave, some people had doubts in their hearts, but they still obeyed his command and rested. After spending so much time with Rhode, they began to trust him unconditionally. That was why they followed his command without a word.
Rhode scanned his surroundings in the nearby forest. Once he confirmed that no one else was around, he stretched out his right hand.
A summoning circle formed on his palm and a white card floated down slowly before him. Suddenly, the card transformed into a beautiful sword that floated in the air.
[The Holy Sword has been detected. Transform to human form?]
Rhode nodded. Then, the beautiful angelic sword shone brilliantly. White rays of light shot in all directions and dimmed almost immediately after. The particles of light swirled into a vortex and formed a beautiful girl once again.
"Master, I've answered your summoning."
The beautiful girl half-knelt on the ground before Rhode, and her right hand held her sword that was firmly stabbed into the ground. She then gazed into Rhode's eyes solemnly. Her eyes were crystal clear, and a faint golden light reflected off her irises, giving off a slightly seductive charm.
(ED: No idea why it would be seductive...)
Contrary to Lize, this girl was a true pure-blooded angel.
"Stand up, don't act on ceremony."
He wasn't accustomed to the girl kneeling before him. Although there were multitudes of female spirits among the vast sea of summoned spirits, most common female summoned spirits were Water and Wind Spirits — who, by the way, were very popular among players.
However no matter what form they took, in essence, they were still spirits. It was the first time that Rhode saw a summoned spirit taking the form of a sword that could transform into a girl. When he thought of it this way, he couldn't help but feel slightly odd.
"In the next battle, I will require your help."
Since he summoned her, he didn't have to be modest.
"You should be able to feel the undead aura nearby. These guys are quite troublesome. Do you think you will die?"
"I will not, Master."
Hearing Rhode's inquiry, the angelic girl smiled and nodded.
"I'm a very pure existence, that's why I'm not afraid of death. As long as you can maintain your power, I will continue to exist."
Rhode nodded in satisfaction.
"I'll bring you out after a while. Remember, from now on you are..."
"... do you have a name?"
Rhode found out that he didn't seem to know whether she had a name or not.
"I do, Master."
The girl saluted with her right hand over her chest.
"I'm the 10th Eternal Holy Sword, Star Mark. While I'm in my human form, you can call me Celia."
"Well Celia, you must remember that you must not reveal your true identity in front of other people. If you have any questions, you can just ask me. Do you understand?"
"I understand, Master."
Rhode nodded and turned around, heading back to the spring.
When he reached the spring, everyone had more or less rested.
"Eh, boy, where did you go?"
Old Walker slipped his jug of wine onto his waist and asked curiously. When he saw the heavily-armored girl behind Rhode, he froze immediately.
Lize was also surprised. She quickly stood up and scanned the new girl from head to toe curiously. The same went for the others in the group. It wasn't surprising though, not only did Rhode bring back a girl out of nowhere. That said girl also sported a large pair of wings on her back. It was as though implying she was an angel...
It was common knowledge that angels were noble creatures within this continent. Most of them held high ranks — even the lowest-level angels had high statuses among common people. In the remote Deep Stone City, not even the City Lord had seen an angel before. But what now? Rhode just went out for a stroll and brought an angel back?
Who is she?
Sereck's mind was filled with countless questions.