It is him?
Rhode's brows went up, and he stared at the young man who interrupted him. Marlene was clearly unhappy. While she wasn't present when Rhode and the Jade Tears Mercenary Group had their conflicts, she still wasn't too pleased with someone blatantly snatching their mission right in front of their noses. This was akin to an uncivilized person jumping the queue at other peoples' expense. She already held some prejudice against mercenaries, and now Barney's actions reinforced her belief.
"We've not left the counter yet, and you want to snatch our mission? That's just plain rude. Do you not comprehend basic social etiquette?"
The half-elf maiden's face began to darken when she heard Marlene's apparent displeasure. She tugged at Barney's arm, trying to stop him from doing any more harm. However, Barney learned from his previous mistakes. This time, he didn't reply and locked his eyes with Old Hank with a solemn expression.
"Uncle Hank, you should know the rules. In the Mercenary Association, any unaccepted missions will be available for everyone. Now, I act on behalf of the leader of the Jade Tears Mercenary Group to accept this mission. That shouldn't be any problem? Right?"
Old Hank revealed a troubled expression when faced with Barney's inquiry. He looked at Barney, then at Rhode, and then back at Barney. Unlike Marlene, Hank had witnessed the battle by the entrance of the Mercenary Association. Now that the two of them had once again clashed heads, Hank immediately tensed up. He glanced over to Rhode, hoping that this young man wouldn't act impulsively again. If history repeated itself, it wouldn't be good news for the Mercenary Association. Fortunately, Rhode seemed to be pretty calm with no signs of irritation on his face. However, even so, who could understand Rhode's true intentions behind that expressionless face?
Barney reminded Old Hank as he hadn't responded for a while.
"This mission is legally ours, am I right?"
Marlene was infuriated at this moment. But Rhode suddenly restrained her from blowing up with a hand gesture. He turned around and sized the two of them.
When Rhode's gaze landed on her, the half-elf maiden shivered slightly. She bit her lips and lowered her head downwards, avoiding his frightening eyes. As for Barney, he boldly lifted his head and welcomed Rhode's stare fearlessly. However, Rhode wasn't interested in a staring contest. He went silent for a moment and let out a soft hum.
"Judging by what I see... aren't you being a little too overly confident?"
"It's not up to you to decide whether we can complete the mission or not."
Barney responded firmly. As for Rhode, he merely shrugged.
"Seems like you do not agree with my opinion and you've already decided to take this mission?"
"Of course, Mr. Rhode."
Barney replied instantly without any hesitation.
"But I don't have any intentions of giving up this mission."
Old Hank and the half-elf maiden immediately tensed up when they heard this sentence from Rhode. Barney gritted his teeth, and his right hand slowly traced his sword hilt. But luckily, it seemed that Rhode had no intention to fight. Instead, it appeared as though his mood was rather good.
"It's pointless for both of us to debate over this. So why don't we make a bet?"
"... What bet?"
"I don't trust that your mercenary group can complete this mission. So I suggest that we both accept this mission at the same time."
Rhode spoke as though he was addressing the filth of humanity. This angered them, but they knew if they were to lose their temper, the consequences were dire. They swallowed their ego and waited for Rhode to continue.
"With my sympathy for the weak, I will give you ten days. After these ten days, if you do not return by then, I would assume that all of you had died and failed the mission. From that point on, my mercenary group and I will then enter the Blackrock Depths to complete the mission. What do you think of my proposal?"
Everybody had differing opinions on Rhode's proposal. Marlene remained quiet, but she felt like this was an unnecessary bet. The half-elf maiden appeared to had given up as she didn't know what was waiting within the Blackrock Depths. As for Old Hank, he trembled in fear as he watched the invisible sparks clashing between the both of them, fearing that a fight may break out anytime.
After a moment of consideration, Barney nodded.
"But, I have one condition," Barney added.
"Oh? One condition?"
Rhode's brows raised slightly, and then he nodded.
"Okay, tell me what condition?"
"To guarantee the fairness of this bet, I hope the Mercenary Association would send someone to act as witness... After we enter the underground tunnels, the Mercenary Association should guard the entrance to prevent any unnecessary distractions."
The half-elf maiden let out a long sigh as she understood what Barney meant. The truth was, the mercenary groups could indeed seek such assistance from the Mercenary Association. Barney was worried that Rhode would mess with them from the shadows, so he set these conditions to deter Rhode. But ultimately, he wasn't the one who controls the Mercenary Association, so all he could do was attempt to request for aid. With the Mercenary Association behind him, Rhode shouldn't be able to do anything. If any news about Rhode's unscrupulous behavior spread, it wouldn't be a good thing for him.
Rhode agreed to Barney's conditions immediately. Then he turned around and waved to both of them.
"Okay then, that's settled then. I hope that you guys won't disappoint me. Let's go, Marlene."
Marlene frowned, but she heard Rhode's beckon, so she gave an unwilling stare to the two fellows before leaving.
Barney finally let out a long sigh of relief and lifted his sweaty palm off the sword hilt. The half-elf maiden also felt a wave of pressure leaving her body as if she had just been released from the depths of hell.
"You were too reckless, Barney."
"But it's useful, isn't it?"
Barney revealed a confident smile in response to the half-elf maiden's grumbling which made the maiden's face blush a little.
This move from Barney was indeed commendable. Borrowing the powers of the Mercenary Association could indeed reduce the threat. However, the half-elf maiden was very clear that now wasn't the time to time to relax as they had many other matters to attend to.
"What should we do next?"
"I will find the supporter and report the recent development. I think he should be very willing to support us financially in this mission. Go back and inform the rest about Blackrock Depths. We can't possibly enter without any knowledge of that place. Also, get two of them to spy on Starlight Mercenary Group. If they make any suspicious movements, immediately notify me. I don't believe that man would give up just like that."
"Alright, I understand. I'll go now."
Hearing Barney's firm command, the half-elf maiden finally relaxed. She was finally convinced that this young man wasn't the same reckless man that she used to know.
Meanwhile, Rhode and Marlene also engaged in their own conversation after leaving the Mercenary Association.
"I can't believe that you actually agreed to their conditions, Mr. Rhode."
Marlene seemed to be still quite dissatisfied with the whole event before, but Rhode didn't appear to take it too seriously.
"Don't worry, Marlene. It's better this way since we have more time to prepare for it. Everything will continue as planned, and you will be in charge of purchasing the Fire-type scrolls. As much as possible, please. And... I can use this time to gather Lize and the rest to revise their form... How's your progress?"
"I think we are on the right track, Mr. Rhode."
Even since then, Marlene and the rest had finally understood the point Rhode was trying to make. They began to craft their own personalized battle style while blending their thoughts and techniques into the actual battle. Although the progress was a little slow, at least they understood what to do.
"Good, this mission will test all of you, so I hope that you will be ready. Oh, and Marlene, if you possess any Fire-type magic equipment, I advise you to bring them along. This mission isn't as straightforward as you think.
"I will try my best, but... Mr. Rhode. Aren't you worried at all? If that group can complete the mission?"
Rhode dismissed the possibility of them completing the mission.
"Even if they completed the mission, it would be totally meaningless."