After two days, Rhode sent Randolf to find Kavos and his brothers. These three men had already returned to the stronghold with their troops, but Rhode didn't give them any further command which left them quite worried. So, after finally receiving Rhode's beckon, they hurriedly abided.
Walking into the room, the three of them saw Rhode sitting by his desk, scribbling something unusual on a piece of paper. Beside him was Christie, who was quietly reading a book. When Christie spotted the three men, she quickly put her book down and greeted them with a polite bow. Kavos, Obertan, and Derick bowed back in response. However, Rhode didn't react as though they had never entered the room. The three former mercenary leaders stood in the center of the room rigidly as they shifted their feet slightly, not knowing what to do. The atmosphere turned a little awkward, and after Christie greeted the three men, she hugged her book and sat on the chair again.
Rhode finally lifted his head.
"Have a seat."
He gestured. The three men let out a sigh of relief and sat on the chairs in front of Rhode.
"How was it? The matter that I instructed all of you to do?"
"It's doing great, Leader."
Kavos immediately followed up. Amongst the trio, he was the most long-winded of them all, but in his presentation, he had spoken of some matters which made Rhode quite happy. Rhode had no choice but to put on a cold demeanor in front of the three so they would understand their position and rank. Furthermore, it was also considered payback for their hotheaded behavior. Kavos, on the other hand, didn't mind to lower himself.
"According to your instructions, we have collected these magical herbs. This is the herb list..."
Kavos handed a paper over, but Rhode left it as it was on the table. Apparently, he wasn't too mindful about such trivial matters.
"Since all of you are back, let us speak of proper business next."
Kavos and his brothers immediately sat up straight. They weren't dummies. Along with the removal of the Mercenary Association's ban, many mercenary groups had already started to accept missions. For a powerful mercenary group like Starlight, there's no reason for them not to accept any missions. So would they be of use this time?
Kavos and his brothers had once believed that their mercenary groups would be in a cooperative relationship with Starlight. However, Rhode plainly revealed the truth and said that it was an annexation. And since then, all of them were considered Rhode's members and had no special treatment compared to the rest. If Kavos and the rest were in their youth, they would have torn Rhode's arrogant face into pieces. However, each one of them was way past their energetic days, and the long years spent being mercenaries taught them to remain calm in such situations. It wasn't scary to do wrong, and as long as you accept the wrong, you'll have the chance to correct it. The scary thing was to make mistakes over and over until the end of your life.
After considering their options, Kavos and the rest realized that they were probably not the best bet within Starlight's ranks. Come to think of it, Rhode could complete high-level missions with insufficient members, and he could even complete them almost perfectly. Furthermore, he had a close circle of members that had been by his side ever since the beginning, so they wouldn't face any major issues with teamwork and trust. In other words, if you had trustworthy brothers or sisters in the mercenary group, do you think that new members would be of equal importance?
Because of this reason, the three men stopped harping over this issue, Instead, when their men grumbled about Rhode's negligence towards them, the three men took the initiative to step up and consoled them. After all, Rhode had clearly informed them about their attitude; only an idiot would choose to go against him.
And now as they saw it, Rhode intended to delegate them some work which proved that Rhode still somewhat valued them.
Meanwhile, Rhode didn't know what was going through the mind of these three men, and neither did he care.
"Two days ago, I had accepted a request from the church. I believe you may already hear of this."
Rhode's bet with Barney had already spread everywhere in Deep Stone City.
"The reason I summoned all of you here was for this matter. After the next few days, we will head to Blackrock Depths. I need you to get prepared. Since we'll be attempting various missions together, I hope that you'll take the initiative to strengthen yourselves. From today onwards, the Training Ground is officially open for you. If you have nothing better to do, for the sake of the three of you, I hope that you will show me the right attitude."
"... Kavos." Rhode singled out the man in the middle.
Kavos's posture stiffened immediately.
"These people... including your brothers, are all under your care. You will be responsible for any issues. I will split your team into two groups, one for defense and the other for offense. Go and think about how to accomplish that... and don't disappoint me."
"Yes, Leader, I guarantee that there won't be any problems."
Kavos finally could put his heart to rest after hearing Rhode's instructions. Now that Rhode willingly assigned him to be in charge of his mercenaries, it proved that they had been finally recognized. And for the next step... if they were able to grasp it, then all would be well.
Rhode nodded and extended his arm, pointing to the side.
"... However, with your current equipment, I'm honestly worried if you can even complete the first part of the mission. So, I've prepared something for you as remunerations for completing my order."
Their eyes traced the direction Rhode pointed to. The three brothers immediately discovered two humongous wooden chests which laid to the corner of the room. Surprisingly, the chests appeared rather plain, which left the three brothers confused. They glanced at each other for a moment, but they eventually followed Rhode's instructions and opened the chests. What they saw next left them completely bewildered.
The two unseemingly unremarkable chests contained various refined equipment and weapons. There were helmets, leather armors, heavy armors, long swords, bows, and shields. Everything was sparkly as though it was brand new. And if it weren't for the slightly irregular shape, Kavos would have thought that these were stolen from some warehouse.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg. From the feeble magical radiance resonating from within the pile, it appeared that there were even magical weapons!
Oh my Lord, am I dreaming?
Kavos pinched his thigh secretly and picked up a dagger with his trembling fingers. He examined the dagger slowly and soon noticed a green shimmer on the blade. Clearly, that was a trait of a magical weapon.
Kavos wasn't the only one in shock. Even Obertan and Derick's expressions changed. They quickly lowered their bodies and dug through the mountain of equipment while stealing a glance towards Rhode occasionally. How did he manage to get his hands on these exquisite armors and weapons?
If Anne was present, she'd most definitely be able to answer the mercenary's inner doubt. That was because all of these were brought back by Anne from the Black Pine Ruins!
Although the mysterious assailant ambushed Rhode, he didn't give up the loot. By Rhode's logic, since the attacker could easily inflict so much damage in a short period of time, then it shouldn't take much effort for them to kill him. Yet, the attacker chose not to, which meant that they had no intention to kill him. Thus, rather than running away with their tails between their legs, why not retrieve all the loot since they had already spent so much time here?
This was exactly why Rhode instructed Anne to dump all the equipment from the dead mercenaries into his spatial bag. Furthermore, even before that final fight, he had looted magical weapons from the goblins. Even though they were low-level monsters, it didn't mean that they wouldn't drop equipment!
Alas, it was a pity that Anne didn't have Marlene's golden touch. She could only pick out the average equipment, while the rare and uncommon loot were all destroyed in battle as expected...
Of course, for Rhode who was already close to level 20, these lowly magical weapons that came with unique attributes such as 'Sharp,' '+1 Poison Element,' or 'Bleed' were no longer necessary to him. From a player's perspective, these weapons would only be sold to merchants for money. But to these NPCs, the weapons can only be a blessing to them. These three poor brothers had disbanded their mercenary group because of financial problems; thus, when they saw this 'generous' offer from Rhode, their eyes gleamed with awe.
"Thank you Leader for your gift!"
Kavos stood up straight; then he bowed deeply and respectfully to Rhode. Likewise for Obertan and Derick.
"I guarantee I won't disappoint you!"
"You don't have to thank me."
Rhode gestured for him to stop. Although he didn't mind giving items out freely like this, he had to agree that the Diamond Mercenary Group did indeed have some pretty neat gear. While the equipment they dropped wasn't in the ranks of magical gear, but they were still a grade above average. And since they had 'kindly offered' their gear to Rhode, naturally he would accept the offer with open arms.
"As I've said, these are your remunerations. After spending so much time picking magic herbs in Twilight Forest, naturally, you will receive your rightful rewards, right?"
Although Rhode spoke in a casual tone, Kavos knew better. The value of these magic herbs they collected wouldn't be able to match the price of a magical dagger.
However, before Kavos could pay his respects, Rhode dropped another bomb on them.
"Ah... right. Get your men ready to claim some potions from Lapis. Each of you will receive five incendiary agents and healing potions. These are for your own personal use; I don't wish to see anyone selling them. Understood?"
I-is this for real?
Kavos became overly excited and almost passed out. Of course, he had heard from Shauna about Rhode granting them magical potions before, but Kavos had always been dubious on this matter. Now, after experiencing it for himself, he didn't know how to react. After so many years of leading his mercenary group, he had never heard of such generosity. Which mercenary group would really give their members so many magical equipment and potions? Oh lord, not even those huge guilds would do it!
Kavos immediately snapped back from his shock and subconsciously nodded his head.
"Yes, Leader!! I guarantee you that there will not be any problems!"
Finally, it wasn't until now when the three brothers realize that joining Starlight was absolutely the right choice.
The three brothers left with two huge wooden chests, returning the room to its previous peacefulness. Rhode sighed and leaned back against the chair. At this moment, a pair of delicate, tiny hands delivered a small cup of warm tea to Rhode.
"... Rhode... are you tired?"
Regarding Christie's concern, Rhode revealed a gentle smile. He extended his hand and stroked Christie's hair. Christie balled up like a kitten, happily squinting her sparkling eyes at Rhode. When he saw her adorable smile, Rhode felt some stress leave his body.
Is this what it feels like being brother and sister?
Thinking of this, Rhode subconsciously fell into nostalgia. His real sister had always been living in the hospital and never been by his side like Christie. Rhode couldn't differentiate the contrast between the relationship of siblings and ordinary couples. He recalled that he had friends who were like that in high school. That pair never left each other's' side, and Rhode had always been curious why they wouldn't be sick of each other. Naturally, Rhode attempted to ask, but his friends didn't give him a logical reply, so Rhode left it hanging there.
In the end, Rhode began to tease the pair as their names had almost the same pronunciation.
Yulian and Yulian. Truly interesting names. (TL notes: Different Chinese characters for 'lian,' but spoken with the same pronunciation.)
Thinking back about his past, Rhode couldn't help but smile, and at this moment, a strange sentence suddenly sounded in his ear.
"Lai, ya, Beiramiterhafura."
Rhode turned his head over and saw Christie covering her mouth in shame. Facing Rhode's puzzled look, the little girl shook her head vigorously.
"I, I don't know... Rhode... these words... I would speak of them randomly and I don't know what it means... Did I say something bad?"
"Don't worry, Christie."
Rhode shook his head, after hearing Christie's uneasy explanations. He remembered the time when he was interrogating the village chief; he had once mentioned that Christie would something speak words that no one could understand. Now, it seemed to be true.
"Don't worry, Christie. You didn't say anything bad."
Rhode consoled Christie in a soothing voice, and when she heard his comforting words, Christie started to relax.
That was the Abyss Language.
Rhode patted Christie's head. Although he didn't reveal his emotions explicitly, in his heart, he was somewhat dubious.
The Abyss Language. It was a language that came from deep within hell. A language used by the devils. In the Dragon Soul Continent, other than devil worshippers, mages, and the almighty churches, no one else knew this language. As for Christie, she obviously hadn't learned this language before, and not only that, based on the intelligence gathered in High Cliff Village, Christie was denied of education, but she was still able to write and even read some of the books in Rhode's room. While she still couldn't read some profound sentences, it was still quite a feat!
However, this was indeed a bizarre case.
And what bugged Rhode the most, was the words that Christie spoke.
'Beware the undiscovered nightmares laid within the depths.'
How did she know about this?