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 The fog dispersed.

The town that had been sealed for years finally appeared under the sun once again. Followed by the death of the Shadow, the will-o-wisp that had been pestering them also disappeared.

Rhode put away his sword. His eyes focused on the pile of white dust on the ground where the body of Shadow used to be. It shone brightly under the sun. He went silent for a moment before lowering down his body to pick up a translucent, milky white gem.

Soul Core.

A Soul Core dropping from a boss-level monster was not at all surprising. After all, boss-level monsters itself had powerful magic. The power that they accumulated over time made condensing a Soul Core simpler for them than a regular demonic beast.

But Rhode did not waste too much time on these things. He just quickly picked it up and turned around. Then with heavy steps, he trudged towards the plaza entrance. Even though he did not consume much soul power in the previous battle, he somehow felt tired mentally. While he did not express it on his face, his heavy steps reflected his fatigue.

Looking at Rhode's figure, Lize and Matt let out deep sighs of relief. They rushed forward and asked about his situation. Unfortunately, Rhode's mood wasn't good, so he merely answered with few words and ended the conversation.

Both Lize and Matt glanced at each other. They realized that he wasn't feeling well and didn't want to chat. Even though they did not know what happened, it was clear that Rhode did not want to talk about it.

Lize was a smart girl, and Matt was a merchant. They did not continue to ask about this matter anymore.

In fact, the fight with the Shadow wasn't their primary concern right now... because soon, they would finally leave this ghostly place!

From the time when the floating ship crashed, until the time they came out from the mountain, only three days had passed. But because of all the hardship they went through, the three days felt like ten days. Dangerous forests, surprise attacks, strange towns, what more could they take?

It was precisely because of this, when they saw the small town on the foot of the mountain, Lize and Matt felt incredibly excited. Even the usually calm Rhode also revealed a relieved expression.

Riverwood Town was situated at the foot of Paphield Mountain. It was a peaceful place because it was located on the border. Back in the game, this place was near the Twilight Forest and was regarded as a newbie gathering place. As such, Rhode spent a lot of time here, so he was quite familiar with the surroundings. He could even casually call out the names of most of the NPCs here. But now, when he walked down the quiet street, discovering the NPCs turning into living people still gave him a weird sensation.

While there were still plenty of things that needed to be done, right now, a soft bed and delicious food was their top priority. After having a meal at the town's local tavern, they immediately dived into bed and went to sleep.

When Rhode opened his eyes, the sun was already high up, signifying that it was noon.

The sun rays were soft and warm. It shone through the wooden windows and the light scattered on the floor.

"Sigh..."

Rhode sighed. He reached out his hand stared at his battle scars. His left chest still had a slight pain. That pain caused him to return to reality.

This isn't a dream.

For the first time, he felt the harsh reality of the world.

The chaotic and dangerous battles felt surreal. Many times when he woke up, he thought that he was only dreaming. Previously, he used his gamer self to repress the reality of the situation; the monsters were simply just illusions to him. But now, when he fought the series of dangerous battles, he slowly started to understand the harsh reality of this world.

What should I do from here on?

*Knock knock*

A soft knock on the door disrupted Rhode's train of thought. He raised his head and spoke in a soft voice, "Come in."

The door opened slowly, revealing a blonde girl who walked in with a clean bandage and a pot of water in her hands. Noticing that Rhode was already up, a lively smile appeared on her face.

"How's your body, Mr. Rhode?"

"It's okay, no issues."

Acknowledging her concern, he nodded politely. Even though his response wasn't too friendly, Lize was already accustomed to it. She smiled gently and did not say anything more. Then she came to Rhode's side and then began to replace his bandage.

Rhode looked at her and smiled bitterly in his heart. The truth was - he truly wanted to be kinder towards her. It wasn't that he was trying to put on a poker face on purpose, doing these kinds of things were just troublesome for someone of his age.

But there was no way for him to change so quickly. His habits were deep into his personality. Back in the past, when he was young, his classmates used to make fun of his face and call him 'sissy' because his face was similar to his sister. As a male, it obviously damaged his ego.

Since then, Rhode had always been very conscious about his appearance. When he entered the Dragon Soul Continent, he did not select the advanced 'scan registration' technology, but instead, he chose to create his avatar manually. At that time, he was still young and immature, so he just sculpted it as he pleased. In the end, he modeled himself with a cold expression to emphasize his masculinity.

This was his '

chuunibyou

1

' phase that everyone went through before. As he got older, he didn't care about these 'little issues' any longer, but it still shaped into a habit that he found it hard to break away from.

In addition, when he became the strongest guild leader in Dragon Soul Continent, he had to manage his emotions well. This cold and collected personality was already deeply rooted within him.

The stinging pain on his wound brought him back to the present. He observed the girl that gently wiped his chest and remembered something.

"Lize."

"What's the matter, Mr. Rhode?"

"What are you going to do next?"

Hearing Rhode's question, she could not help widen her eyes in surprise. Her hands also stopped.

She sighed and lowered her head helplessly. "Frankly, I am not too sure."

"How about your comrade? Do you have a place to go back to?"

"Even if I go back, I would be the only one left..."

Speaking up to this point, her tone lowered to a whisper.

"...And the mercenary group is going to be disbanded."

So that was it.

Hearing Lize's story, he finally understood her situation.

In the Dragon Soul Continent, mercenary groups were divided into three levels. The lowest level was a small mercenary group consisting mostly five or six adventurers, up to no more than ten people. These kinds of groups mostly consist of non-bonded members. Anybody could create a group, as long as they register themselves legally.

The next level was the large mercenary group. Their member count must be above ten. Large mercenary groups were unable to disband whenever they wanted to, unlike small mercenary groups. They must submit formal copies of their identities and report to the Mercenary Association. They can also receive help from the Mercenary Association or even own their own stronghold.

The highest level was the mercenary guild. It required them to have more than a hundred members. These mercenary guilds were powerful. They owned strongholds and fortresses. Even officials or the merchant association must respect them. Huge, influential mercenary guilds often own their domain and city.

Classification of the mercenary groups was not simply divided by strength and prestige; their missions was also different. A small mercenary group had no way to receive a mercenary guild level of the mission. The Mercenary Association would directly reject the proposal. Even if they manage to complete the mission somehow, it would not be recognized. Of course, realistically, a small mercenary group wouldn't have the resources or the strength to complete a mercenary guild level commission.

Despite having plenty advantages over smaller groups, the larger the group, they had more stress and management issues they had to deal with. Every year, the Mercenary Association would conduct an assessment based on an appropriate mission's danger level. If they did not perform well enough after a year, then even large mercenary guilds would be forced to downgrade its rank while small mercenary groups would be disbanded.

Because of this, Lize was depressed. There were only ten people in her group, so it was considered to be medium-sized. But due to the mission, their group of ten was reduced to one. Even the leader had perished. There was no way to maintain their status as a mercenary group.

Even though she still had some time left before the yearly assessment, she did not have the ability to complete it. Moreover, she was a non-combat class. It was not like she could do it even if she wanted it. Based on this situation, the only choice she had was to disband. As a cleric, a dedicated supportive class, it wouldn't be difficult for her to join other mercenary groups.

But Lize didn't want to leave.

"You don't want to leave?"

She firmly nodded towards Rhode.

"Yes, Mr. Rhode. After all, they were the ones who sheltered me. My relationship with them was akin to family... I-I really don't want this group to disband." Her eyes started to redden as she spoke, but she clenched her teeth and continued, "They all have left. At least...at least I want to prove my gratitude towards them with my actions..."

"But looking at the situation, if you cannot find enough people then your mercenary group will disband in no time."

"...Yes"

Lize did not avoid reality. She knew exactly where the problem lies. But, she did not plan to give up.

"But, I do not want to give up. Just like what you said to me before. Since I am alive, I must do something meaningful. Even though I still do not know to what extent I can achieve. But, I still want to try."

Seeing her firm expression, Rhode suddenly thought of an idea. He went silent for a moment and said, "Since that's the case, I have a suggestion."

"What's your suggestion, Mr. Rhode?"

Lize quickly raised her head and looked at him nervously. Although she only knew him for a few days. But his knowledge and strength left a deep impression on her.

Whether it was the Wind Snake, Silver Wolf, or the will-o-wisp. Those were things that she never saw before. She was certain that most of the mercenaries also never seen such monsters before. But Rhode was familiar with their weaknesses and habits which was simply unimaginable.

She was not like Matt, who was nosy as he tried to guess Rhode's real identity. Between adventurers, these things were not necessary. As long as one was powerful, then it was enough.

Even though Lize already made mental preparations, but the very next thing Rhode said, rendered her speechless.

"If you don't mind, give me your mercenary group."

Chuunibyou () is a derrogative colloquial term in the Japanese language used to describe a person which manifests delusional behavior, particularly thinking that one has special powers that no other person has.

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