Rhode felt that Barter wasn't the only one looking down on him.
He knew that ever since Starlight was established, most problems revolved around the main construction of the mercenary group and him. No matter if it was Anne, Lize, or Marlene, they were all considered beauties. Furthermore, with his pretty face, it gave others a feeling that this mercenary group was made up of only beautiful women and subconsciously, people believed that beauties weren't capable in battles. Not only was this mindset true in this world, but it was also the same in the game too. Many players' first impressions of beautiful players was that they were incapable and only for display.
No matter how grandly they dressed or how powerful their weapons were, no one thought that they earned them with their capabilities but rather with appearances. Moreover, even if they had seen their capabilities during battles, they wouldn't recognise their strengths. Just like 'Mini Bubble Gum' during those days; although that little girl created the PK techniques for Clerics and was also considered the grandmaster of all Clerics, no one regarded her highly due to her overly cute and delicate appearance. There were even people who found excuses for themselves after they had lost, saying how they were unable to lay hands on her because she was too cute, which was why she kept winning. Not only could this protect their reputations, but they could also look down on her achievements at the same time.
But it was never a good idea to mess with a delinquent child. Mini Bubble Gum was furious after hearing the comments. Thereafter, she created a skill that could manipulate and torture the opponent until they begged for mercy. With such scheming battle techniques, many players lost their confidence and pride and quit the game forever... No one ever dared to look down on this cute little girl anymore.
Right now, Starlight was in a similar situation to Mini Bubble Gum. As there were too many females in this mercenary group, they were easily treated as a group of pretty faces. Moreover, Rhode even had a pretty face like Barter just mentioned. It was no wonder that others thought Starlight was a pushover.
Of course, there were both good and bad sides to everything. If Starlight was treated as weak, there would be more troubles searching for them. However, this would also bring their opponents' guard down.
If they treated Starlight as an earthworm that could be easily kneaded, Rhode didn't mind letting them know that they were holding onto a poisonous snake!
One bite would be enough to give them a taste of their own medicine.
After managing a guild for years, Rhode was already experienced in this aspect. He knew that if a guild wished to be popular, they would need to fix their styles. In the game, Starlight was like an attacking tank that crushed from start to end and nobody dared to intervene. This deeply boosted their strengths and also complemented Rhode's image. Due to this reason, almost no one dared to resist Starlight. Furthermore, Starlight's authority in the game wasn't considered too much. They had never forced others to evacuate a place for their training purposes or force others to give up on fighting the BOSSes they had targeted. However, if anyone thought of this behavior as backing down, they would immediately get a taste of how terrifying the strength of this guild. Moreover, in the later part of the game, Starlight had a more than 10,000 players, which occupied one-third of the entire server. No one was capable of overthrowing such a powerful force.
But now, no matter with regards to strength or image, Starlight wasn't suitable for such a style. No one felt that they were powerful and they would get pitied instead, just like a bunch of kids throwing blows and screaming to defeat an adult-no one would treat them seriously. However, deterrence was necessary for any mercenary group, which was why Rhode decided to stick to a more ruthless style. A beautiful and colourful poisonous snake which others had to retreat away from them. Of course, for others to know that this snake was poisonous, they had to show their might. To Rhode, this Midsummer Festival was a precious opportunity.
However, not everyone looked down on them. Rhode didn't detect any sense of malice from Viktor.
In the game, Rhode had participated in the Midsummer Festival and knew the four guilds, including this man, well.
Viktor Laurentius. Unlike mercenaries with poor backgrounds, he was born in a merchant family and learned sword skills from a young age. At 14, he received the rights of a knight and passed the mercenary test. Then, he formed his own mercenary group, Cole Falcon, and displayed outstanding leadership skills. In a matter of three years, he led Cole Falcon into a guild status and expanded in Cortes Plateau like a soaring falcon into the sky.
After Cole Falcon became a guild for two years, they stopped a conspiracy targeting the Munn Kingdom and Viktor was bestowed as a Knight. This was the start of him being in the King's Party.
The development model of Cole Falcon was similar to Rhode's ideal, as Viktor's guild funding was supported from his own family: the Laurentis Trade Association. As he was the second son of the family, he didn't inherit the whole of the trade association (since the person who inherited it wouldn't be able to become a mercenary, anyway). However, in the family, Viktor had a close relationship with his bigger brother. Both brothers were each in charge of the trade association and guild respectively. Such close family ties and the growth of Cole Falcon were inseparable.
However, although Viktor seemed courteous and gracious, Rhode wasn't used to it at all. No matter what, he felt like Viktor was flirting with him... which disgusted him.
In fact, as the second son of a huge trade association, he had been through proper education and he wouldn't be up to any unruly behaviours. But, some things had become a habit to him and Rhode's face was indeed too attractive. As they spoke, Viktor instinctively tried to bring out his best in treating ladies. Then, he realised that he was actually speaking to a man.
This made the deepest part of Viktor's heart filled with tears. In all honesty, he wasn't interested in men at all.
And because of this, both sides were rather awkward. If it were Mobis, maybe it would be better. After all, both sides were definitely enemies and there was no need to hold back. However, Rhode couldn't fall out with Viktor, who was part of the King's Party. At the same time, he was unhappy that Viktor treated him as a woman and even flirted. Moreover, Viktor felt wronged as he didn't think that his behavior was inappropriate. If it were Marlene or Lapis, perhaps he would be considered gentlemanly. But it had to be a guy... What was the point of being gentlemanly before a guy?
Besides, all in all, both sides actually didn't have much to talk about. Although Rhode was in the King's Party too, this wasn't the game where avatar names were indicated above everyone. This was why Viktor was careful in not being too expressive before figuring out Rhode's identity.
This left the atmosphere awkward.
"I've heard about Mr. Rhode's achievements in Paphield."
Viktor's catchphrase was 'I've heard...', so there were many times when he was termed as 'having preternaturally good hearing'. This also held the meaning of belittling and praising Cole Falcon's intelligence-gathering team. It roamed the entire Munn Kingdom, and perhaps other than King's Party, they could be considered the best.
After a meaningless opening, Viktor no longer wished to drag the conversation on and went straight into the main topic. This way, he didn't need to care about the other party's gender.
"I didn't expect that Paphield would produce such a figure like Mr. Rhode."
"We are only a mercenary group, Mr. Viktor."
Rhode calmly replied. He knew that this man wasn't as harmless as he seemed. In fact, Rhode knew that he had made a name for himself in Paphield and it wasn't too possible for the guilds to ignore. However, as long as they belittled Starlight, Starlight would have a chance of victory.
"We are only doing our best in what we can and nothing much."
"But the fact that you guys are standing here proved a lot."
If Rhode's expression was like frozen ice of thousand years, Viktor's smile was like a warm spring breeze. Viktor laughed and passed his wine glass from his left to right hand. Then, he turned to Marlene, who was softly speaking to Lapis. As the heir of a huge family, Marlene saw how a person presented himself in such occasions. Although both of them got in touch a lot of times in the mercenary group, Lapis was always introverted and feared death more than Christie. After such a long time, even Christie was already familiar with Marlene and the rest. However, Lapis had always been disassociated with most people and this was a good opportunity for her to have a closer relationship with others. Before coming to this place, Rhode had reminded Marlene to help Lapis and it seemed like things were going well.
"Also, I believe in Miss Marlene's insight. A mercenary group she was willing to join is definitely special."
Rhode's brows twitched slightly, but before he said anything, a sharp, piercing voice sounded from the side.
"Indeed. Just as Sir Viktor said... A mercenary group who simply kills their enemies is definitely unique."
Viktor's expression slightly changed. Rhode puckered his brows and turned to the source of the voice.
They saw a tall, skinny middle-aged man with both hands behind his back. His face was plastered with a sarcastic smile.
He was the leader of Liberty Wings Guild, Waltz.
All the leaders of the four guilds had assembled.
"Mr. Waltz, what you said seems a little odd."
Viktor forced a smile but quickly restored his previous expression. Rhode swept a glance at Waltz and continued to sip on his wine.
"I don't understand what you mean."
"Hmph. Do you really not understand? Mr. Viktor?"
Waltz let out a sneer and looked down on Rhode. Then, he walked closer and blocked Rhode's line of sight. At this moment, everyone detected that some problems were brewing and retreated. Rhode continued to stare into his wine cup and admired the liquid within while totally ignoring the man before him.
Everyone took in a deep, fearful breaths because Waltz was the person who one shouldn't provoke. This person was vicious, tough, and irascible. Anyone who resisted him wouldn't end up well. Furthermore, he had an equally strong backing-at least for now.
And that was why this leader had always been acting tough and not many dared to argue and ignore his presence. But now, Rhode actually did it! Waltz stood less than a meter away, but Rhode didn't even blink an eye and continued to admire the delicious wine as though he was non-existent!
This young man had no fear!
Everyone knew of Waltz's irascible temperament. For Rhode to brazenly disregard him, who knew what would happen if he angered this man! Would the young lady from the Senia Family be willing to step up for this young man?
Some of them extremely admired of Rhode's courage. From the start, they had sensed the murderous intent from this horrifying man as he strode toward Rhode.
Rhode didn't have any expression at all and didn't even lift his head!
Just based on this, Rhode gained a lot of respect.
"Hear this, kid."
Waltz's voice wasn't loud, but it rang in Rhode's ears.
"I don't know how you managed to get rid of Frank, but I got to tell you that you have successfully provoked a horrifying enemy and things won't end so simply. I will make you pay for what you have done."
"Is this a threat? Mr. Waltz?"
Marlene stepped forward. She lifted her head and sized up this man proudly. Then, she went up to Rhode and stood beside him.
"I'm not threatening anyone, Miss Marlene."
Waltz's brows twitched.
"I'm only speaking the truth. There are things that people should do and not do, but it's a pity that there will always be someone ignorant who does things their way. This is a ridiculous matter just like your mercenary group-an utter joke."
"Starlight is not my mercenary group, Mr. Waltz."
Marlene finally couldn't hold it in any longer.
"I am only a member of the mercenary group and the leader is Mr. Rhode. Mr. Waltz, please get this right."
"Of course I didn't get it wrong."
Waltz put on a fake smile. He looked at Rhode in disdain and shifted his gaze to Marlene.
"A nominal leader? This is the way you people work? Miss Marlene, I'm too disappointed in your family."
Many were stunned and they immediately understood what Waltz meant by that. Waltz was saying that the Senia Family wished to take over Paphield, which was why they sent Marlene over and set up a mercenary group. However, it would be too glaring for a family heir like Marlene to become a mercenary group leader, which was why they had to find a person like Rhode to substitute her. In short, this young man was like a puppet of the Senia Family, and Marlene was the mastermind behind everything.
The older the wiser. Waltz's remark didn't only instigate the relationship between Rhode and Marlene, but also disregarded the position of Senia Family. Everyone knew that the Senia Family was the most respected family in the Munn Kingdom. Now that they wished to expand their powers, they actually resorted to such methods which didn't fit in well with their identity. In the end, he still successfully turned the situation around that Rhode's unruly behaviour of ignoring him was due to him being a puppet under control. Under such a situation, without Marlene's permission, he wasn't allowed to say anything.
This had been disguised as a mockery.
Marlene sulked and even Lapis who remained silent wasn't able to hold it in any longer. She didn't know who this person was but judging from the way he regarded Rhode as useless, she was furious. She took two steps forward as though she about to comment, but after looking into the man's eyes, she shivered and froze to the spot.
Waltz didn't give up this chance. He noticed Lapis and approached her.
"This lady doesn't seem familiar. Who are you?"
As Waltz approached, Lapis panicked. Marlene couldn't hold it in any longer and stopped Waltz from moving forward.
"Mr. Waltz, she is a member of our mercenary group. Please be respectful."
"Mercenary group member?"
Waltz came to an abrupt halt and curiously sized up Lapis.
"I didn't expect the Senia Family to have such interest. Miss Marlene, I was wondering if I can pay for a night's stay in your mercenary group? I think it would feel really good."
Marlene snapped. Any normal humans would be able to hear that Waltz was blatantly implying that Starlight was a brothel. How could Marlene tolerate any further?
However, just as she was about to speak, Rhode stopped her. Then, he said something that changed everyone's expression instantly.
"Marlene, don't lower yourself to this old carpenter."
Everyone turned ashen.
This dealt a critical hit to Waltz!
When Waltz was young, he wasn't a mercenary but a carpenter. During those times, his life wasn't any different from other ordinary civilians. But later on, a disaster changed his life. His family got dragged into an suppression operation by the armed forces and died. Although the commanding officer was eventually punished, this disaster totally changed Waltz's life. He hated the suppression operations and blamed the King's armed forces. Then, he joined the Liberty Wings Guild of the Southern Reformist Party because he felt that the armed forces had totally neglected his life and the civilians were only devoted to the King. He didn't wish for others to meet the same fate of pain and sadness, which was why he joined the Reformist Party. With his talent and hardwork, he spent 20 years and promoted into a guild leader from an ordinary mercenary.
Under the Southern Reformist Party's propaganda, Waltz became the spokesperson for the poor civilians. Indeed, to many people, his temper was irascible and he was a dangerous person. However, to those poor civilians of the South, this was the way a real man should be. He wasn't as subtle and hypocritical as those soft-spoken nobles. This was the man most real and worthy of their support!
Of course, to the King's Party, he was a dangerous man. He relied on himself to influence the civilians recklessly. Even when the situation wasn't that serious, the matter would become huge and batter the King's Party as long as he brought his men to make a fuss. According to Rhode's way of saying of this world, Waltz was a talent in starting fights between classes.
The King's Party wouldn't be so nice as to believe what he did for the poor civilians was the best. From their perspectives, Waltz purpose of doing that was to smear the image of the King's Party and path a way for the Reformist Party. Due to this reason, the King's Party was dissatisfied with him, but his Liberty Wings had always been located in the huge Reformist Party camp's southern port, where the King's Party wasn't able to take actions against him.
They were clear of Waltz's identity and knew the reasons behind his rebellion, which was why anyone who called him a 'carpenter' only dared to do it behind his back and no one dared to call it in his face.
And now, this young man actually did it before everyone!
Oh my god, what was he thinking? Could it be that this lad is sick of living already?
Even Mobis, who enjoyed the show, turned pale.
Waltz sulked and clenched his fists while staring at Rhode with his fiery eyes. His murderous intent exuded. Many were impressed by this ridiculous young man. They saw that this young lad was extremely courageous!
Moreover, the corner of his eyes didn't even move when he said it. As usual, he totally ignored the presence of Waltz as though he wasn't present.
He didn't put Waltz in his eyes!
At this instant, many felt that the rumors about this noble from the Eastern Plains was true. Other than that ghostly, forbidden place, where else would anyone dare to disregard Waltz?
But... What would become of him?
Many sighed inwardly and took a few steps back subconsciously. To them, this ceremony might turn bloody, so they'd better step away in order not to get dragged into it.
Viktor and Barter exchanged looks of shock. Judging from Rhode and Marlene's actions, they could see that this young man wasn't their enemy. For Marlene to step out and defend him, it proved that he must be a supporter of the King's Party. After all, Marlene, as the heir of the Senia Family, definitely knew what was wrong or right. But... Who exactly was this man?
It didn't just require courage to not be wavered by Waltz. They finally respected Rhode.
It was apparent that this mercenary group wasn't that simple at all.
So then, how would Waltz react to this?
Marlene took a few steps back and placed her staff before Lapis while staring at Waltz. She knew who the enemies of her family were. One could say that a person like Waltz was frank and irascible. But no matter what, he was a dangerous figure.
So then, would he make a move under everyone's watchful eyes?
Rhode lifted his head and gazed at Waltz.
This surprised Waltz.
Same as Mobis, Waltz saw the young man's intentions through his eyes. The young man looked as though he was staring at a dead person and he didn't seem to feel threatened... Just like how he had countlessly gazed at those who resisted him and ended up defeated.
What's going on?
The rage deep in Waltz's heart was totally replaced with hesitation. After being a mercenary for years, he could recognize if a person was lying or not.
What's with this lad?
Waltz stared blankly and his opportunity slipped by, because at this moment, a deep bugle horn sounded and the Holy War Ceremony official began.
Waltz was taken aback. Then, he swept a cold glance at Rhode before turning away. Up until this moment, everyone let out sighs of relief; after all, they didn't wish for such chaos in this ceremony.
"Hey, I think that lad's got guts."
After Viktor returned to Barter's side, he heard of the other parties' comment on Rhode. Now, Barter had a different view on Rhode.
"He actually called Waltz an old carpenter? Hahaha! Old carpenter! Viktor, after so many years, have you ever seen anyone call Waltz that? This lad is brave and I like him! After this ceremony, I'm gonna treat him to a drink!"
"This really is..."
Viktor sighed. He didn't understand Rhode much, but from his previous actions, he knew that he wasn't any pushover...
This time, the ballot ceremony might be rather troublesome.
The ceremony finally began.
The Mercenary Association President held a sacred spear before everyone and the guilds and mercenary group representing the five regions approached the spear, recited the commandments and codes of mercenaries in unison. Then, they swore that they would battle for the honor and tradition of mercenaries. This was all meaningless talk, but what happened was the most crucial.
The previous ballot ceremony wasn't followed closely because the King's Party faced the Reformist Party everytime and everyone was used to such arrangements. But it was different this time with the addition of Starlight, which changed the format into a two versus two. One of the guilds would need to battle for an additional match and according to the rules, this would be the first match.
Just as Barter thought, none of the guilds regarded Starlight highly. With their current strength, they would definitely be the first to be eliminated.
However, as Marlene was around, it made things awkward. Everyone knew that the Senia Family was the core of the King's Party, so if Starlight drew a match against Purple Lily or Cole Falcon, wouldn't that mean an internal strife? The latter definitely was a loyal supporter of the King's Party, but the Senia Family was the core of the King's Party. If Marlene lost, the Senia Family would be upset. Furthermore, what if the family's heir was injured before everyone...
Everyone in the Reformist Party couldn't help but hide their smiles at this thought.
On the contrary, Barter and Viktor put up serious expressions as they knew clearly what consequences this would bring. But what else could they do?
The Mercenary Association's ballot ceremony wasn't any different from ordinary ones. Six swords would be pierced in a row and the leaders would step ahead and draw a sword each. The color indicated at the tip of the swords would determine their opponents. The ones with the same colors would fight each other.
First up was Waltz. After receiving the blessings from the Mercenary Association President, he drew one of the swords-blue.
Then, Waltz raised and showed the sword with both hands before shooting a look at Rhode who was at the end of the queue.
Barter was next. He took big steps forward and drew a sword without any hesitation.
Barter shrugged and left without saying a word.
Then, it was Viktor. Unlike Barter, Viktor maintained his elegant self. He confidently stepped forward and bowed before extending his arm.
Viktor sulked slightly but restored his smile. He cursed his bad luck inwardly. He knew clearly that the Liberty Wings had invited the powerful beast, Rosen, in order to secure their victory. Would he still stand a chance?
Viktor stepped down the platform in uncertainty.
Mobis was next.
He revealed a meaningful smile before drawing a sword. He turned around and gazed at the other four leaders. Then, he extended his hand and pulled out a sword.
Just as everyone predicted, this year's Midsummer Festival would still be a show between the King's Party and Reformist Party without any suspense. So then, what happened next was the real suspense. Which color would Starlight receive?
Rhode stepped onto the stage.
He stood before the president and bowed respectfully. The latter nodded with a smile.
"Mr. Rhode, your Starlight Mercenary Group has been performing well in Paphield. I hope you can keep up this phenomenal performance in the Midsummer Festival."
He was obviously lying through his teeth.
"I'll do my best."
Rhode calmly replied and shifted his gaze to the remaining two swords - Each of the sword represented red or blue respectively.
Marlene stared at Rhode nervously from below. Lapis opened her eyes wide and clutched onto Marlene's hands. Although she was only here as a substitute, she was nervous too.
Rhode didn't consider much as he stretched his right hand and pulled out the sword on the right.
The color of bloody red was oddly glaring.
And Rhode's opponents were therefore decided.
They would face the Reformist Party's loyal supporter, the Sky Sword Guild.