Amidst the fatigue from the matters of her group, Shauna was still energetic as usual.
"Hello, Mr. Rhode."
Shauna greeted Rhode with a smile.
"Frankly, I thought I was dreaming when I heard about you from Old Walker."
"I'm also quite surprised to see you."
Rhode nodded and replied as he shook Shauna's hand.
"Never thought that I would get a response from your group."
Shauna smiled helplessly. Her emotions were slightly shaken, but she soon stabilized herself and gestured towards the three other people behind her.
"There's no need to introduce them. Henry, Martin and Levi... right?"
Rhode recalled their names and briefly recited them.
The three were surprised as they had only fought together once, yet Rhode could still remember their names.
"You actually still remember us, Mr. Rhode."
The Swordsman named Henry smiled and said.
Henry was present during the battle in Pavel Cemetery. He was convinced of Rhode's strength when he witnessed how he commanded and defeated the Necromancer. That was the reason why he actively supported this meeting.
"Of course I remember."
"But I think the person that left a deep impression on me isn't here?"
Shauna and the others smiled awkwardly as they knew who Rhode was referring to. Luckily, that matter had already been solved, otherwise, Shauna wouldn't be able to meet Rhode at all.
"If you are referring to Barney... you don't have to look for him anymore because he had already left our mercenary group."
Rhode was slightly surprised.
"That's quite unexpected. He left the group? Why?"
Shauna was already prepared for this question, so she gestured Rhode to sit down and began to explain.
"Before we met Old Walker, we received an invitation from Jade Tears. Barney was quite interested in the invitation, but the four of us weren't keen on accepting it. Thus, we could only let him follow the path that he wants and removed him from the group."
However, Shauna only stated half of the truth. After the battle in Pavel Cemetery, Red Hawk had received heavy casualties, so Shauna's position as leader was inevitably shaken. Being a female mercenary already left her at a disadvantage, and now, coupled with the heavy losses under her leadership, her position began to falter.
Shauna had planned to recuperate before initiating the recruitment process, but she didn't expect her subordinates to betray her during the downtime. Barney made his stand blatantly obvious. He even visited Shauna privately, requesting her to pass him the position as mercenary leader.
Barney promised that he would evolve the mercenary group, but Shauna could understand what was Barney thinking about. Naturally, she rejected his proposal, causing Barney to seeth in anger.
Purely based on her female instincts, she quickly concluded that he intended to sell the group to Jade Tears for a large sum of money. However, after the incident in Pavel Cemetery, she felt wary of people who offered something that was too good to be true.
Thus, after ending their relationship, Barney and his followers left Red Hawk for Jade Tears. That was why only four members remained. Of course, this made Shauna incredibly furious, but when Old Walker visited her, it was as though a bright light dispersed the dark, gloomy clouds over her.
However, since this was a private matter, Shauna didn't plan to bring it up during the negotiations. Rhode also wasn't very keen on internal conflicts, so both of them quickly shifted to the main point of the negotiation.
Rhode stretched out his hand to grab a glass of wine on the table.
"Your strength is quite lacking... I don't know if you can handle the upcoming battles."
Shauna had already made mental preparations to be rejected. She knew that she couldn't possibly compare to a Mage like Marlene in dealing damage, nor could she compare in soaking up hits like Anne.
There were four people left in Red Hawk. Shauna and Henry were both Swordsmen, Martin was a Shield Warrior and lastly, the Barbarian, Levi.
If they were ranked accordingly by their power level, Shauna held the first place. The other three were more or less the same. But Shauna knew that even though she might be regarded the top in her mercenary group, when faced against a group like Rhode's, she was nothing but a small fry.
If that was the case, what kind of jobs would he assign her group to if they merged?
Shauna felt a little uneasy thinking about this. However, Rhode soon eased her worries.
"I think you are aware that Starlight is still quite small. Thus, when we head out for a mission, no one would be present to guard our stronghold. This matter has been on my mind for a while, so if you're fine with guarding the stronghold, I will welcome you with open arms."
Shauna and the others didn't answer hastily. They sipped a few mouthfuls of wine and pondered for a while.
After a moment, Shauna narrowed her brows and said.
"I really appreciate your trust, but... isn't that responsibility a little too heavy for us?"
While at first glance, it might seem that guarding the stronghold was a mindless job and probably one of the least important roles among the others, but it was actually the opposite. One must realize that the stronghold was the core of any mercenary group. Only members who were trustworthy were allowed to guard the stronghold while their leader was out. Thus, Shauna's concerns weren't unfounded. Though she might have relations with Lize, it wasn't a good enough reason for Rhode to fully trust them. Weren't they afraid that they might take advantage of the situation while Rhode wasn't in?
But contrary to her expectations, Rhode didn't seem to show any worry.
"I've already said that we are lacking in manpower. And since you're honest enough to remind me of such matters, I believe you wouldn't do such a thing. Furthermore, this important responsibility will be shared with other mercenaries other than you three in the time to come. When that time comes, they will be under you. I'm sure that you'll be able to handle them as you already have experience as a mercenary group leader.
Shauna wanted to speak, but she hesitated in the end.
If she hadn't met Rhode before, she would've thought that he was joking. Rhode had just offered her one of the most critical roles in a mercenary group. However, what did she do to deserve such a position? Besides, she hadn't even joined Starlight yet!
For a while, the red-haired female mercenary pondered deeply.
Rhode, on the other hand, merely kept silent and waited for Shauna to decide. It wasn't that he was oblivious to her concerns, but because of the system prompt, he had a method to observe his stronghold any time he wished. In other words, if Shauna were to do something bad, Rhode would be alerted immediately and could activate the security system to imprison everyone inside.
Thus, he didn't have to worry about anyone trying to destroy the stronghold from inside. Instead, he was more worried about people attacking from external sources. Although the stronghold's defenses were difficult to breach, if someone were to attack the stronghold continuously without anyone to stop them, the situation would turn dire. It would be meaningless to activate the security system if there was no one guarding inside.
Shauna's Red Hawk mercenary group might not be the best option for him, but right now, it was the most feasible method.
After confirming Rhode's offer, Shauna turned towards her remaining members and discussed the matter with a serious expression.
Then, a while later, she turned back to Rhode and said,
"Since Mr. Rhode displayed his trust in us, then we can't possibly decline your benevolence. We can assure you that we will do our best to defend the stronghold!"
Upon hearing Shauna's reply, Rhode nodded, satisfied with her choice. Then, he stood up and shook her hand.
"Well then, let me be the first to welcome you to Starlight."
Once both sides reached an agreement, the remaining details were not difficult to settle. Soon, they reached a consensus on compensation and salary.
Each month, Shauna and the other three would receive ten gold coins. While it was less than they that got previously, it was still a generous pay considering their low-risk job. On the other hand, if Shauna or any other were to neglect their duty and cause the mercenary group to suffer a loss, they would have to compensate with their personal funds. There was no objection to this clause as it was logical. Now, the final step was for Shauna to send in their letter for disbandment to the Mercenary Association and report that they were joining Starlight right after.
When it was time to sign her name on the disbandment form, Shauna still showed signs of hesitation. After all, it had been several years since she had formed Red Hawk. She had done so to prove that she didn't need to rely on men to be strong. She worked doubly hard to create a name for her mercenary group, but in the end, reality still slapped her in the face.
Shauna's hand that was holding the pen suddenly stopped moving. She lifted her head and looked at Rhode who stood beside her.
Will this man be different from the others?
He managed to attract Lize, so he must have something that compels others to follow him. But... what does she see in him?
Still, thinking about this right now is pointless.
After a while, Shauna bit her lower lip and signed her name on the paper.
From that moment on, Red Hawk was officially disbanded.
When Shauna exited the Mercenary Association, it can be seen that she appeared tired, but her expression was still rather calm.
"You're my leader now, Mr. Rhode."
Shauna smiled wryly and patted on Rhode's shoulder.
"After packing up, come to my stronghold and I will show you around. You should already be aware of its location by now."
After speaking with Rhode, Shauna turned around to leave, but at that time, a familiar voice sounded nearby.
"Big sister? Why are you here?"
When she heard this voice, Shauna's expression changed. Rhode also frowned and turned around.
A young man walked towards her, wearing a brand new leather armor. His eyes widened when he saw the red-haired woman.
"Big sister? What are you doing here? Are you taking a mission?"
"That's none of your business, Barney."
The woman's former smile disappeared and was replaced by a cold expression.
"I-I'm only asking..."
Barney's mouth twitched when he heard her cold remark. Then he shifted his dissatisfaction to Rhode nearby.
"Big sister, why are you together with this... guy?"
"None of your business, Barney."
Shauna repeated herself coldly.
"You're not part of Red Hawk now, why do you even bother? Moreover, Red Hawk is already disbanded. I'm now a member of Starlight."
Barney jumped, startled like a cat whose tail was stepped on.
"Big sister, are you saying that you disbanded Red Hawk because you want to join this b*stard's mercenary group? How can you do something like that?! How can you give up on Red Hawk, I..."
"Shut up!! You are no longer a member of Red Hawk. You don't have any rights to tell me what to do!"
"...Have no rights?"
Barney's expression turned dark.
"You always say things like that... telling me that I have no rights to do anything. Didn't I just state the truth?! It is you who refused to hear it! Even when I was still in the mercenary group, you always shut me up by saying that I have no rights. Now that I'm not a member any longer, you still tell me that I can't speak my mind? In fact, it is actually you who no longer have the rights to tell me what to say!"
Barney then reached out his hand and pointed towards Rhode.
"I will say this now. This b*stard's dirt broke mercenary group is nothing compared to Jade Tears. Am I right, everyone?"
The people that had followed Barney started chiming in.
"How can anyone want to join a trashy mercenary group like Starlight?"
"Hey... maybe that guy used his beauty to seduce people? Look at his face, doesn't he resemble a sissy?"
"Hahaha! He does really look like a sissy! Perhaps he might even be a woman in disguise! Is it because that she's too flat chested so she decided to dress as a man? Hahaha, that's too funny. Anyway, a flat chested woman in bed is still a woman, someone like her..."
Before that man could finish, a bright red light flashed past his head. In a fraction of a second, half of his head flew into the sky followed by his brain matter splattering all over the place. His body was still halfway maintaining a vulgar pose, but after convulsing a few times, it dropped to the floor with a thud.
Everyone was in shock. All of them stared at the dead body in disbelief.
"Only level 5? Hmph, even the EXP he gave is only 5. What a noob."
Rhode spun his sword a few times and flicked away the 'dirtied blood' on his blade. Then, he coldly curled his lips into a smirk and stared at the rest, sending chills down their spine.
"Y-you, what are you doing!!"
Barney finally reacted. He stopped staring at the dead body and pointed a finger angrily at Rhode. But at the same time, he subconsciously backed a few steps away from him. It wasn't until he was reunited with the rest of his followers was he then finally relieved.
"You dared to kill a person in public!! Do you know that he's a member of the Jade Tears mercenary group?! Doing something like this is the same as declaring war!"
"Killed a person?"
Rhode glanced at the dead body and tilted his head, smiling coldly.
"I can only see a dead dog. I don't see any person here that you speak of... including you."
Rhode then lowered his head slightly and stared at Barney menacingly with his one side of his lips still curled upwards.
"For the sake of the peace and stability of this world, and as a respectful resident of this city, I have a duty to put down stray dogs that might infect others with their... contagious diseases."
Rhode slowly walked towards Barney.
"And as for you... perhaps you've forgotten the pain from before, Mr. Barney? Since my gift was so easily disregarded, do you think that I should give you something to remember me by-permanently?"
Barney's heart thumped harder at every step Rhode took and found himself frozen in fear. Although he had more people than Rhode, he didn't feel safe at all. From his perspective, the cold light gleaming in that man's eyes was like a monster that could gobble him up without breaking a sweat.
His teeth chattered as though something struck his throat. It was clearly only two simple words, but he didn't know why he was unable to say it.
Damn it! Damn it! Damn it!!
Rhode was getting nearer and nearer. Barney could feel his previous injury that was already completely healed starting to hurt again.
Droplets of sweat trickled down his forehead, but he was still unable to move.
Am I going to die like this?
Suddenly, a black shadow emerged from Rhode's back. With a quick motion, a sharp dagger deftly shot towards Rhode's rear.
The moment the dagger arrived behind him, he suddenly disappeared and reappeared behind the assailant. Her hands suddenly became numb and she lost control of her dagger which fell to the ground soon after.
Realizing that her attack had failed, she planned to retreat. But before she could do so, the very next second, she found herself pinned against the wall with her neck grabbed tightly.
"That's already the second time. Looks like there's another one who didn't learn their lesson."
He glared mercilessly at the half-elf girl who struggled against the wall.
"I didn't think that you'd also join Jade Tears. It looks like that mercenary group is full of trash. They basically accept anything."
Both of her legs kicked against the wall, reaching out her hands in an attempt to pry open Rhode's vice-like grip. On the other hand, Rhode didn't budge an inch. Instead, he turned around and shot a glare at Barney.
"Is she your comrade? Maybe I should start with her?"
"S... stop!! Let her go!"
As though his words had woke him up, Barney suddenly had a surge of momentary courage and whipped out his sword, pointing the tip towards Rhode.
"Quick, let her go! Otherwise, I won't hold back!"
"A man must learn to talk less and do more."
Rhode smiled coldly at Barney's 'threat.' His fingers slowly clamped tighter on her neck, causing the girl to gasp for air. Her strength also seemed to dwindle as her legs which was previously actively kicking against the wall began turning limp.
Noticing that the situation was turning bad, Barney hesitated no longer. He waved his sword and gave the order to attack. Once they heard his command, the other mercenaries also took out their swords and rushed towards Rhode.
Then, at that moment, a deep voice boomed.