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 Starlight was about to battle the elites of mercenary groups within Paphield. This news instantly attracted many mercenaries' attention after the Mercenary Association announced it. To the solo mercenaries, this was definitely interesting. Whereas for the mercenaries in mercenary groups, they also wished to see if Rhode's Starlight was indeed powerful and would be able to overthrow all the elites.

For the sake of convenience, the matchups followed the individual battles from the actual Midsummer Festival. Both sides would have a maximum of five members and three substitutes. In other words, there were a total of eight members in a team. However, this wasn't the actual competition; after all, and there wasn't enough time. As a result, the other mercenary groups would only need to gather five members. There were two types of individual battles. In one, each team had to summon a member to battle, and the team that won three out of five battles would be the victor. The other would be a single-elimination open tournament. Participants could battle until they failed to continue, where a swap would be kicked in.

The competition was set in the underground wrestling ring. That place was once a venue for Deep Stone City's nobles to watch beast fights and could hold up to 10,000 audience members. It had a layout similar to ancient Rome's beast battle arena, but was built underground instead. There were no objections from either party.

However, what happened next was overwhelming for the leaders.

Previously, Rhode had mentioned betting equipment as reward and the leaders weren't too mindful. However, as soon as Rhode presented his bet, everyone was stunned: Rhode graciously betted his precious Crimson Blade.

And this meant disaster for the mercenary group leaders.

Everyone knew the value of the Crimson Blade. However, they had already agreed to the conditions. Moreover, the person responsible of the whole matchup was Sereck, and no one would be dumb enough to trick that Swordsmaster.

However, it wasn't easy to bet equipment that had an equal value as the Crimson Blade. The Crimson Blade was considered as a family heirloom of the Keller Family and even as a godlike weapon in most players' eyes. Even though Sereck wouldn't evaluate the equipment using player's perspective, he could appraise whether the equipments were on par with the Crimson Blade with his natural abilities.

Therefore, the leaders had no choice but to comply. Unlike Starlight, who had only been set up less than half a year ago, these mercenary groups had been operating for a long time in the Paphield region, and they had no lack of treasures in bracelets, necklaces, head rings, leather boots, capes, long swords, staffs, and even meteor hammers... In other words, they had anything that one could think of.

Of course, this upset many leaders. They had always appointed their members to fully protect their assets and now they had to change their rules for this bet. Every mercenary group would need to place their equipment as bet in the battle, and once their alliance was defeated, Rhode would receive the spoils of war. However, Rhode wouldn't receive them all if any members in the alliance team managed to take down his men.

Marlene and the rest had ended their training sessions in the mirage. Currently, even if they continued their training, they wouldn't have made much improvement. To Rhode, since he had bet on his Crimson Blade, the other mercenary groups' equipment couldn't be any worse. Through this bet, Rhode wouldn't need to hunt in dungeons or purchase equipment anymore. Instead, he could easily receive a pile of high grade equipment, which was an absolute bargain. Of course, the prerequisite were that he didn't lose.

Rhode could guarantee that the opponents would try their best in order to keep their treasures, which was even more desirable to him. This warm-up match was meant to tune the conditions of his men and increase their experiences, so what was the point if both parties harboured the thought of friendship first and battles second?

And now, Rhode was only lacking something crucial.

The burning torch lit up the underground venue while letting out a soft crackling. Rhode stood in front of the door and looked at everyone. According to the Midsummer Festival rules, only legally registered mercenaries could take part in the competition. Currently, Starlight had a total of seven members: Marlene, Lize, Anne, Joey, Randolf, Gillian, and Rhode. However, Rhode had mentioned that Gillian and himself would be substitutes and wouldn't get into battles. Therefore, Marlene and the rest would have to handle most of the battles.

Marlene's rights in being a mercenary had been achieved a long time ago. On the other hand, Gillian was in a slightly more troublesome situation, where she could only get through by using Rhode's private connections with Sereck to alter her details in the database. However, in order to prevent any disputes, he eventually placed Gillian as a substitute. As for the final eighth position, Rhode had selected Lapis. But she was totally focused on providing external support; if not, there would be an issue in terms of potions.

Rhode's alternate motive in organising this warm-up match was to familiarise everyone with the atmosphere in the actual Midsummer Festival in order to avoid them getting scared out of their wits. Although Marlene and the rest weren't as terrible as they were before their training in the mirage, it was still common for heroes in the training grounds to turn into zeros. Excellent training results might not represent the same results in battles. Therefore, Rhode felt this was the best opportunity.

As expected, Rhode realised that apart than Marlene, everyone was rather nervous. They couldn't be blamed as Lize was a Cleric who seldom had the chance to witness such a crowd in battle. Anne was as carefree as usual. But judging from the way she gripped her shield, it seemed like she wasn't as calm. As for the two newbies, Randolf and Joey, it went without saying how the situation was for them.

On the contrary, Lapis had already escaped, but she was eventually pulled back by Rhode.

"I will cut the crap."

Rhode said to everyone waiting to enter the venue.

"All of you are aware of what to do and I'm sure you know the purpose of training for so long in the mirage. You can choose to escape or give up, but that means everything you have done is for naught... I know you won't like that. I know all of you are nervous right now, but you have to get used to it because this is only the start..."

Rhode paused for a moment and carefully observed them. After hearing Rhode's words, Lize's serious expression became more determined. Anne lifted her head proudly, carried a smile, and blinked at Rhode. Randolf and Joey instantly recalled their harsh training sessions in the mirage and summoned their courage.

Did we work so hard just to give them all up? What's the point to suffer like abused dogs?

Almost there.

Rhode didn't mind applying more pressure on them.

"Of course, I hope all of you can bring out your best... Also, just to mention, these opponents here may not even be the best candidates for the Midsummer Festival. So, if you don't perform as per my expectations then, I'm sorry, I will immediately revoke your participation rights."

Everyone was sure that Rhode was serious as he always did as he promised. If they didn't perform up to his expectations, then he would definitely kick them out of the mercenary group, which was definitely something they wanted to avoid. Due to this, Randolf and Joey put up solemn expressions. Lize closed her eyes as though she was in deep thought. Anne tilted her head and didn't seem to be bothered by Rhode's words too much. Only Marlene, who had been remaining silent, suddenly widened her eyes and asked...

"Mr. Rhode, may we know what's your expectation..."

Rhode answered with his usual poker face and a calm tone.

"Don't return to me if you can't defeat all five of them by each of yourself."

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