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 You lose some; you win some. Christie understood this meaning.

Now she could finally follow Rhode around Deep Stone City. Out of concern, refrained from sending her out alone. And in fact, after many years of torture and sadness, the little girl was vigilant against crowds. While she hoped to broaden her horizon, she was afraid of getting hurt. And only by Rhode's side would she feel strong enough to do so.

And now, she'd done it.

Bright rays of sunlight illuminated the busy streets of the market. It was noon, and everyone was working hard to begin their daily chores. The sellers were advertising their products and greeting the customers. Rhode held Christie's tiny hand as they strolled along the busy market street of Deep Stone City.

The duo wore a cloak to cover their faces before heading out to prevent unnecessary trouble. This short 'trip' was actually something enjoyable for Rhode, but of course, the main reason was to purchase some of the things that Christie loved. To be frank, Rhode had no idea how to resolve the issue of boredom for Christie. If the two of them had met on Earth, Rhode could still find some activities for her to keep her mind off things, such as browsing the internet or reading a book. But alas, in this world, leisure activities and entertainment were sorely lacking. Most of their entertainment consisted of the city's night-life, which was definitely something Rhode wouldn't allow her to experience at her age.

The little girl stuck to Rhode's side while she tightly gripped his hand. At the same time, she didn't forget to sate her curiosity by gawking at the nearby buildings as well as the little bits and oddities around the Deep Stone Market. For a person who had lived in a small village all her life, she felt that Deep Stone City was simply too unbelievable! From the buildings on the top of the rock walls to the endless pit down below, Christie didn't let any minor attraction slip from her sight. Even the faraway harbor wasn't any less attractive than the marketplace that she was currently at.

Her only regret was that the older sisters who treated her very well weren't able to accompany her on this sightseeing trip. Ever since Rhode's return, Christie had seldom seen Lize and the rest around. Every day, they would leave their rooms with a complex expression, and would only return in the evening with pale faces. Sometimes, they were too tired and simply skipped their dinner.

"What are the older sisters doing?"

Christie asked Rhode curiously. But Rhode's answer was much vaguer than she imagined.

"They want to be stronger."

Christie didn't understand the meaning of this sentence. But since Rhode said it, so it shouldn't be wrong... but still, she wanted to know what were the sisters really doing.

Thinking of this, Christie turned her head towards the direction of their stronghold.

-

"Ahhhh!"

Marlene let out a huge sigh and leaned against the wall. Her forehead was full of sweat. To the side of her, Lize didn't look any better. As for Anne, she sprawled on the ground, spreading her limbs in all directions. Not far away from them were Randolf and Joey who were even more pathetic. They weren't even able to keep their consciousness alive.

In front of the three maidens stood the illusionary figures which Rhode had summoned from his memories. The illusory figures can last for a long time within the mirage, and could even act on the summoner's interests. So without the need of physically being there, he only needed Marlene to activate the Sphere of Mystery and everyone would be brought into the mirage for training.

"No, this is unacceptable."

Marlene shook her head, bit her lips and faced forward. A maiden dressed in a blue gown was still smiling at her as if she met an old friend. But Marlene could never forget the scene where she was utterly defeated within three short seconds.

Marlene gritted her teeth in frustration when the previous battle flashed in her memories once more. Luckily, Marlene had always maintained her well-disciplined disposition, which prevented her prideful self from crumbling due to failure. If she were arrogant and self-satisfied with the title of 'genius', then Marlene would have already found a place to hang herself, as this blow to her ego was too huge for her.

While her self-control was strong, it didn't help Marlene's abilities to improve. No matter how well she was prepared for the battle, she would totally falter under the opponent's attack and taste the bitter fruit of defeat within the next five seconds. And furthermore, her opponent displayed magical skills that far exceeded her knowledge.

She knew that the key to victory was to exploit the fact that her opponent only specialized in Wind and Fire, whereas for her, she had a total of five elements at her disposal. Since that was the case, her opponent shouldn't have much variety in her skills, so she concluded that once she understood the casting pattern, she could attempt to counterattack.

After a consecutive series of losses, Marlene's perseverance paid off and managed to memorize her opponent's skill rotation. Just as Marlene had imagined, her opponent's spells were limited.

But even with that knowledge, Marlene wasn't able to clinch a victory.

This was because Marlene had forgotten an important point. In an actual battle, the number of skills one had wasn't the most important deciding factor. Instead, the critical timing and appropriate use of skills were of higher importance.

True, her opponent was indeed only specialized in Wind and Fire, but because of that, she didn't have to choose from a broad repertoire of spells and could just use them as it is. But as for Marlene, she had too many different elemental spells to choose from, and she didn't know which one to use for each differing situation, thus, confusing herself in the end. Although Marlene's hard work managed to allow her to defend herself against the first attack, she would be blown away the very next second.

Stay calm, calm... think of Mr. Rhode's advice...

Biting her lips, Marlene once again thought of Rhode's advice. He would gather them every night and debrief them regarding the battle techniques and insights. These were very useful, especially to the mercenaries who lacked battle experiences.

"I think that all of you had a glimpse of their battle styles, and I believe some of you may have already discovered the secrets in their techniques. Using the timing to ensure that there aren't any loopholes in their attacks, and also to attack continuously without stopping. But of course, when we discuss about attack or defense, these terms are seen as a means to an end. In battle, he who controls the battlefield is king. Thus, there are two core terms which you must understand, control and anti-control. If you can control your opponent's movements, then the next clash wouldn't be too difficult. However, if you get controlled by them instead, then you will feel the results yourselves."

Control...

Marlene mumbled to herself. She could obviously understand the meaning of this word. However, the truth remained the same, even if she attacked or defended from the start, she felt the battle didn't proceed as she intended. She was like a boat going against the waves, losing control under the storm and inevitably falling into a perilous situation.

Thinking of this, Marlene frowned. She realized that she had a misconception. Right until now, she had been focusing on how to prevent and break the opponent's rotation of spells. But instead, these were only strategies in battle. Even if she could try stopping her opponent's attack once, she wouldn't be able for the other as she hadn't turned the tide of the battle in her favor. Her countermeasures were still within her opponent's calculations. Therefore, her initial resistance didn't mean much to the outcome of the battle.

In other words, she shouldn't focus on how to defend and counterattack, but she should think of how to break the control of the opponent, and turn it to her favor?

But if she used this method, didn't it mean that she needed to defend and resist against the opponent's aggression too?

Between these two, what were the differences?

Unlike Marlene who was frowning and deep in thought, Lize quietly remembered the battle techniques she studied from the little girl. She could cast the same skills as the little girl and was clear of the theory. But Lize had never used these skills offensively, and now, she was akin to a traveler who had just discovered the new continent, greedily observing the unknown creatures.

Although they went through similar training, the five of them had different views towards it. Randolf and Joey were newbies, so they didn't have their personalized styles or determination. Therefore they hoped to learn how to fight by observing strong opponents. As for Marlene, she had possessed sufficient spells, and now she needed to know how to utilize them to their full potential. Anne wished she could improve herself by battling such strong opponents. Whereas for Lize, she was still considering and understanding the connotation of the techniques.

Rhode didn't expect them to defeat their opponents since these people were the top ten players in the gaming world. Even if Lize and the rest carried a certain amount of talent, but to obtain the same level of strength in such a short period was clearly impossible. But this wasn't his only motive. He hoped that Marlene and the rest could derive the best battle techniques for themselves. These experiences would be extremely beneficial for their future growth. Learning step-by-step had its merits indeed. Just like Marlene, with her abilities, she wouldn't have any problems bullying some underground giant, but if a nine-headed serpent appeared, then she would immediately be at a loss. It wasn't only because of her unfamiliarity with the monster, but also because of her lack of battle experiences with beings that were stronger than herself.

Right now, Rhode was training them mentally and physically to fight superior opponents. In the upcoming mid-summer festival, they would meet powerful enemies... or at least it would be considered powerful in their point of view.

If they didn't have necessary preparation against stronger opponents, then no matter how familiar they were with their skills or techniques, they would fail miserably when it came to the actual fight,

The only factor which made Rhode worried was their lack of time. The mid-summer festival was only two months away, and after these few days, the ban by the Mercenary Association would be lifted. At that time, they would re-invest their time into the missions. While Rhode didn't need to acquire more points to ensure that his mercenary group would promote to a guild, but he still needed some missions to rally his men. Those newly joined mercenaries didn't get to know himself too well, and the only way to bond the mercenary group together was in battle.

But this means that he would need to pick a dangerous mission. Humans tend to fight for themselves when they're relaxed, and only when life-threatening situations occur would they fight alongside each other. Rhode didn't intend to find some ordinary mission to polish the group, so, in his mind, he thought of selecting a mission that wasn't too far away, yet slightly dangerous. Furthermore, if the mercenaries witnessed his abilities firsthand, then they would grow to trust him more.

But as Rhode mused about this matter, his train of thoughts was interrupted by Christie.

Rhode lowered his head and looked at Christie who pulled onto the hem of his garment.

"What's wrong, Christie?"

"... Rhode... What's that?"

The little girl asked curiously while extending her hand and pointed to the front.

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