Once again, everything suddenly became white. Along with the deactivation of the mirage, everyone returned to the real world.
However, none of them could stand up on their feet.
Randolf laid flat on his back, stared at the ceiling while taking in big mouthfuls of breaths. He was extremely exhausted, not only physically, but also spiritually. During his battle, Randolf didn't have any upper hand at all. And not only that, the opponent countered his every move. Although in the mirage, both he and his opponent had the same level, in other words, the opponent had the same stats as Randolf himself, but he still couldn't gain the upper hand no matter how hard he struggled. This young ranger felt a deep sense of frustration, not knowing what's better to do.
Joey sat on the ground gloomily while wiping the sweat from his forehead and grumbled. It was as if he was considering something and regretting something at the same time. But no one could hear what he was mumbling about.
Anne leaned against the wall. Her shield that was always by her side had already been tossed aside while she closed her eyes and panted deeply. She didn't even have the time to ponder on the battle. The most important mission now was for Anne to recover her physical strength.
Marlene kneeled on the ground, gritted her teeth and clenched her fist. Her body couldn't stop shaking. It was unknown if it was due to her excessive efforts or because she had to accept her shocking defeat. And by her side, Lize looked utterly lost. She didn't know what to do and could only stare blankly.
In the mirage, everyone faced unprecedented defeat. Although the opponents' levels were suppressed to match their own, there wasn't any chance for a victory. Even if they used the same techniques against them, they would fail with no way of knowing how.
"If any of you are unable to take this blow, you can choose to withdraw."
"... To be frank, I'm utterly amazed, Mr. Rhode..."
Marlene collapsed to the ground and took out a towel to wipe the sweat from her forehead. Then, she lifted her head towards Rhode, her eyes filled with astonishment.
"Who exactly were they? That lady's techniques were completely foreign to me, and she was so ingenious and formidable. I was called a genius by others... but it seems to me that the lady is the true genius. What's her name? Why didn't I hear of such a person in the Mage Association before?"
It was no wonder that Marlene would ask so anxiously. When Marlene was sparing with the lady, from the start, Marlene had let her guard down after witnessing the friendly smile displayed from the lady. Thus, Marlene didn't treat her as a formidable enemy.
But after their fight, Marlene finally discovered the hidden strength that the harmless looking lady hid. Under her continuous assault, Marlene didn't even have a chance to counter and was immediately defeated. Marlene thought that she had belittled her opponent too much. But even after she turned serious and concentrated in the battle, the result was still the same. No matter how well prepared Marlene was, as long as the maiden attacked, Marlene would immediately get hit without any chance to react. Marlene could only hopelessly watch herself get caught by the opponent's spells. This wasn't the first time Marlene encountered such experiences. She had experienced them from Grand Mages before, where their strengths were profound and had a more extensive array of magical spells. However, this lady didn't have any specialty. Also, compared to Marlene, this lady only specializes in Wind and Fire elements. Her spells were also lesser than Marlene's, but even so, Marlene didn't stand a chance.
"Me... Me too..."
Lize answered with a shaky voice. She had never seen a cleric with such mighty strength. That girl seemed to be much younger than her, but her massive yet quick attacks caused Lize to think that she was fighting against a mage, and not a cleric. She had no idea how this little girl managed to do it. Lize had once trained in a church, but even the Bishops didn't possess such tremendous power.
Anne didn't fare any better. Maybe due to her bloodline, her energy was stronger than the opponent, but the battle didn't end up any sweeter than Marlene or Lize. The battle techniques used by the opponent broke every one of her expectations. She could never understand how a shield warrior could launch attacks as fast as a swordsman. And even though both of them were using golden shields, that woman had so many other ways to utilize it. Anne thought that she was already familiar with her weapon, but now she discovered she was far from it.
Compared to the girls, Randolf and Joey weren't as devastated by their defeat. Since Anne and Lize were veteran adventurers for a long time, and Marlene was a genius from magic school, they could be considered to have accumulated countless of experiences and confidence. However, Joey and Randolf were new mercenaries, and the first thing they would think of was: 'Those people were so strong!' They would not have similar thoughts with the three maidens like: 'How was it possible they were this strong?".
"They were my comrades and companions."
Rhode answered to Marlene's question and paused for a moment.
Marlene stared blankly at Rhode's vague answer.
Rhode slightly nodded.
"But they are already gone from this world."
This sentence was indeed true to a certain extent. They weren't in this world anymore.
"We adventured deep into the east and faced an accident right at the end... They had left this world, and I'm the only one left here. So it isn't anything strange if you hadn't heard of your opponent in the Mage Association before. In your terms, that would mean she was just a wild Mage."
Although what Rhode said was neither true or false, he was actually right. However, all these happened back in the game, so naturally, he wouldn't tell it to Marlene.
Marlene frowned. She was smart. Thus, she could easily deduce the opponents' true strength. Even though they were battling with the same stats as them, but those people should be much stronger, so how would they even get into trouble during the adventure? But the last part of Rhode's answer left her mouth gaping. Such a powerhouse was actually self-taught without proper systemized magical education? How was this possible? If a wild mage could have such power, who was the real genius?
"Mr. Rhode, the area that all of you went to was..."
"The Deepest Labyrinth."
Rhode casually said the Void Dragon's dungeon's name. And this answer made everyone took in a deep breath.
Known to everyone, one of the forbidden regions within Dragon Soul Continent was the Deepest Labyrinth. It was practically on the top of the list. That area forbade any entrance to anyone. Anyone who entered wouldn't make it out alive. Even the strongest didn't dare to adventure there, yet Rhode and his men dared to. Just based on this, they were considered much more courageous than most of the elites.
And Lize suddenly realized why Rhode was hurt back then.
Although Rhode didn't explicitly state it, they had more or less guessed it. These young geniuses that possessed immense strength were confident in challenging the 'Deepest Labyrinth,' yet they had failed with only Rhode surviving. Based on the skill that they previously displayed, if their original strength was much stronger, it wasn't weird for them to go on the most dangerous adventure.
But at the same time, Marlene felt that it was a great pity. If those people were still alive, they could very well be the new legends of this continent...
If it were in the past, Marlene would still doubt Rhode having such powerful strength, but that notion completely faded away now. The mirage could completely reconstruct one's memories, so these people clearly existed in Rhode's mind and not purely imagination. To be able to lead such a strong team into the most dangerous region and come out alive, Marlene had no doubts about Rhode's strength and leadership.
Not to mention, in her heart, she had another point to prove her stand.
But... compared to them, she was too weak.
Thinking of this, the trio's hearts sank. Regardless if it was Marlene, Lize, or Anne, they had once considered that they could be of help to Rhode by being alongside him. But now it seemed otherwise, as compared to those companions from before, they were absolutely useless. Although Rhode had never grumbled about this, they wouldn't ignore the truth. They were far from the level where they could fight alongside Rhode.
That was the hard truth. In a normal adventure, Rhode seldom chose to fight alongside them. Most of the time, he would give out commands and fight the enemy one on one whenever a dangerous situation occurred. However, now that they discovered the difference in skill, it seemed like he felt that their strength wasn't enough to help him during times of peril.
Rhode didn't deny this thought. He stood by the side and observed everyone's expression. He knew he was strict on these people. The top ten most outstanding men he had in Starlight Guild had at least level 60 equipment sets, and none of the BOSSes below the second tier could threaten them at all. Even in PK, they greatly surpassed the other players. In the last three years, during the official competition, the first to the sixth place belonged to the Starlight Guild. And the guild battles to determine the champion would always include the five of them. Rhode led his guild to glory, and no one could challenge his status.
To the natives of this gaming world, this goal was indeed too far away. To put it bluntly, even if the players were naked without any equipment or weapons, if the NPCs could manage even to touch a hair on their head, they would be considered very powerful within the ranks of the NPCs.
Of course, Rhode knew what impact this would bring to his men. But he chose to quietly observe. After all, in future battles, they would need to build a robust mental resistance, and defeat was a good way to hone it. They must be able to withstand failures and embrace them to become stronger. Even though they weren't players, but Rhode thought that they could also learn a few things. Although talent trees and skill points were non-existent, skills and reflex could be sharpened. This was the most important part. Like Rhode, even though he started again from scratch and lost all his godlike equipment, he used his skills and knowledge which eventually worked out well. So now, the five of them would need to figure it out themselves.
"I'll say it once more. If you think that you can't handle the pressure, you can choose to withdraw."
Rhode repeated himself. The five of them looked at each other and eventually shook their head.
"I... I think I can do it. Mr. Rhode."
Marlene stood up while gritting her teeth.
"That lady was indeed powerful, but isn't that what I need? Please do not forget why I am here in the first place."
"Me, Me too..."
Lize raised her hand.
"I'm not afraid of such challenges, Mr. Rhode. I can do it."
"Anne wouldn't give up."
Anne clenched her fist and waved it. Her eyes revealed some excitement.
"Anne had never met such a powerful opponent before, so how can I choose to give up."
"Us too, Leader."
Randolf and Joey stood up and answered firmly.
Rhode nodded approvingly.
"From tomorrow onwards, all of you better be prepared for special training."