Rhode sat on a chair, observing the old man behind the desk. He knew who he was. Moby Daimler, Deep Stone City's Mercenary Association president. Back in the game, almost every player would somehow be acquainted with this man if they wanted mercenary licenses from him. Furthermore, he would be responsible for teaching the players' practical skills.
If a player had high reputation points, he would hand out certain rewards to them. So, to the players, this old man was quite a popular NPC.
However, Moby Daimler's character was obstinate, and also sometimes quite a blockhead. Of course, in this world, the people view him as someone who adhered to his belief, but to the player, he was just a stubborn old man.
But whether he was stubborn or not, it did not matter to Rhode.
"Lize, you have my deepest condolence about the matter..."
The old man then looked down at his desk, and said with his unique calm and slow tone, "Carter is a good kid. I watched him grow up, and I'm very sad about his loss," the old man shook his head and paused for a moment to sigh, "but this is a mercenary's life; we work for money, and we all know that we might die. From the moment we accepted this way of life, we had acknowledged the risks involved... Now, tell me, what have you truly come to me for?"
"I... I want the mercenary group to carry on, Sir."
Lize shivered in nervousness. Both her hands slowly turned pale as she clutched the hem of her dress tightly.
"I know it will be difficult, but I have made the decision... Mr. Rhode will be appointed as the new leader, and I believe that under his leadership, this mercenary group can continue to prosper."
"... a wonderful idea, Lize."
The old man sighed.
"But you do understand that this will be a gamble. Will you hang the fate of the entire mercenary group on an unfamiliar person? Can you afford to shoulder the consequences of that venture?"
"I certainly understand the risks involved, Mr. President, sir. But... I choose to believe in my judgment. My only wish is to watch my mercenary group prosper, but I know that I do not have the ability to do so. Therefore, I can only choose to believe in someone who can bring me hope."
Lize gracefully lifted up her head and gazed firmly into the old man's eyes. The old man slightly narrowed his eyes and returned Lize's gaze. After a while, he said, "In any case, I hope that you can consider the risks involved. After all..."
The old man was unable to finish his sentence before being suddenly interrupted by Rhode.
"Perhaps, you should ask my opinion, Sir."
Upon hearing Rhode's bold words, the old man's eyes revealed a trace of uncertainty. His eyes started to scan this man carefully whose body was fully wrapped in a cloak.
"Kid, when an elder speaks, you should be polite."
"If you put it that way, then I think it is quite rude to ignore the existence of others deliberately."
Rhode retaliated without hesitation nor fear. In the game, the president NPC was an extremely resolute and steadfast character. He despised spineless cowards. That was why Rhode spoke so straightforwardly as he wanted to compare the difference between the old man from the game and this old man in front of him.
"Let's not dwell on unrelated matters. Moving on to the main point, I understand that the mercenary group quota is limited, and every mercenary group that can hit the quota is required to experience some kind of hardship."
"Am I right, Mr. President?" Rhode said coolly.
"Moreover... I also understand that if this information spreads out to the people, not only will the Mercenary Association's reputation be damaged, but you'll also trigger the combined dissatisfaction and ridicule from other mercenaries. You needn't waste your time beating around the bush about these matters, Mr. President."
"Good lad!" The old man couldn't help but express his shock.
Almost immediately, the lazy demeanor expressed by the old man vanished without a trace.
"Since you understand what I meant, I'll just be frank with you. As you've said earlier, every mercenary group has their own quota, and it is through their own perseverance and effort that they manage to clear the tasks required of them. No matter who you are, it is impossible for you to change the way of how the Mercenary Association operates. I'm incredibly saddened by the loss of Carter and the rest of his team, but I cannot break the Mercenary Association's regulation."
Rhode leisurely leaned back against the chair as he slowly picked up the teacup.
"But you also do not hold the power to disband the mercenary group either," said Rhode casually as he stirred the black tea in the teacup, which was already cold.
Without waiting for a reply, Rhode continued, "According to the Mercenary Association's regulation: Only within the winter recess period, those mercenary groups who did not reach the specified level would be forced to disband. Also, the Association has no right to intervene in the internal affairs of the group."
Upon hearing Rhode's well-thought rebuttal, the old president frowned in silence.
"I did not expect that you were that familiar with our regulations..." the old president voice trailed off, but the next moment, his taut expression suddenly relaxed.
"Indeed, we do not have this power. But, as the president of the Mercenary Association of the Deep Stone City branch, I am responsible for every mercenary. And the most crucial aspect here... is your identity as an adventurer. We cannot possibly allow a person who has yet to be assessed by mercenaries to lead a mercenary group. "
Lize couldn't sit still any longer when she heard this. She immediately shot up and opened her mouth to say something. But to her surprise, Rhode shook his head, stretched out his arm and held her shoulder. Then he slowly stood up with a calm expression.
"This means that if I pass the assessment, you'll agree?
"That goes without saying, lad."
The old president also stood up.
"Do not forget, this is the Mercenary Association's territory. People who are qualified to stand on these grounds are only mercenaries."
"Very well." Rhode nodded. His heart relaxed a lot. Until now, the old president's reactions were not beyond his expectations.
"So, if I asked to be assessed right now, there shouldn't be any issues, right?"
The room turned silent.
Both of the old president's eyes widened as he studied this young man in front of him carefully. Even he could sense the self-confidence from the young man's tone, but he did not know where that confidence came from.
This kid... does he even know what is he getting himself into? Since he understood the regulations well, I'm certain that he knows the standard of the test. While it isn't particularly difficult, it isn't a cakewalk either.
Is this kid being reckless? Or does he truly have the strength?
In his heart, the president shook his head. From his appearance, the young lad who was fully wrapped in a cloak didn't appear to emit any signs of power. However, since the lad was willing to take on the assessment, he couldn't say no. It would be the best if he could pressure him to quit, but if that didn't work... then he'll think about it later.
Once he made up his decision in his mind, the old president didn't speak any further, and he gave a smile to Rhode. He reached out and picked up a small hammer which he gently swung it against a bell on the desk. Soon, an attendant entered the room.
"What's the matter, Mr. President?"
"Is the training field empty right now?" he questioned the attendant while maintaining the smile on his face.
"Very well. Inform Sereck that someone is here to take on the mercenary assessment."
When Sereck's name was mentioned, a trace of surprise flashed in the attendant's eyes. However, the expression in his eyes didn't linger, and he quickly lowered his head before leaving the room in a hurry.
Lize, on the other hand, openly expressed her shock and she quickly made her way towards the president.
"Mr. President! You can't...! Mr. Sereck is..."
"Kid, this isn't something you should worry yourself with." The old president waved his hand and interrupted Lize. Then he turned his head slightly, glanced towards Rhode and said, "Since this young gentleman volunteered to take on the mercenary assessment, naturally, I will grant him the opportunity."
Lize wanted to say something, but this time, it was Rhode who interrupted her.
"Do not worry, Lize. There will be no problem."
Rhode reached out to grab a loose end of his hood and pulled it across his face, utilizing the shadow to cover his mouth. Under the hood, Rhode's lips curved into a smile.
"After all, this is a rare opportunity to duel with the 'Light Swordsman'."
When the old president heard Sereck's nickname, he couldn't help but widen his eyes in shock. However, since things had already turned out this way, it was unnecessary for him to say anything more. Although he found this young man's attitude peculiar, as a veteran with decades of experience, his confidence wouldn't be shaken that easily.
"Good... since you have the courage, I'd like to see how you will pass this assessment!" The old president snorted coldly.
"I assure that you'll not be disappointed. But before that, I hope you can give me 10 minutes to prepare myself."
"Of course, that's not a problem."
The old president didn't find anything odd with Rhode's request; rather, it'll be odd if he didn't ask for preparation time as it was such an impromptu decision.
Once again, he gently swung the tiny hammer on the bell and summoned several attendants.
"Escort the gentleman and the lady to the waiting room. Start the mercenary assessment in 10 minutes."
The attendants glanced towards Rhode in surprise.
"Is 10 minutes enough?"
The Mercenary Association waiting room wasn't anything luxurious; instead, it was slightly chilly. Other than the wooden furniture, there were wall decorations made up of swords and shields. Suits of armor were lined up neatly in the corner as well.
Rhode waved his hand, gesturing the attendant to excuse himself before entering the room and locking it.
"Mr. Rhode, this is too risky!"
Lize finally voiced out her concerns to Rhode.
"Mr. Sereck is a famous warrior in Deep Stone City. The president is deliberately making it difficult for you. This..."
"You don't have to worry, Lize. I have already expected this outcome."
Rhode shook his head. He had already guessed it from the start. After all, in the game, that old man would always make it difficult for the players when they wanted to create a mercenary group. Not only would they have to gather reputation points, they would also need to undergo many difficult quests. As for right now, since he wanted to take a shortcut, of course, that old geezer wouldn't make it easy for him.
Furthermore, Sereck wasn't a stranger to Rhode. He was a powerful warrior in Deep Stone City, and he was also a master swordsman that inherited 'Light Swordsmanship'. What made this 'Light Swordsmanship' so special was that it had light magic interweaved into sword skills. By itself, the level of swordsmanship was merely average, and it was just considered to be middle-classed to players. During this period, if Rhode's memory wasn't wrong, Sereck's level should be at 40.
With such a vast difference in level, it was practically impossible for Rhode to win.
However, this was only assessment, not a life and death battle.
Rhode decided to conclude his thoughts and took out the Soul Core he obtained from the Shadow.
Its appearance was different from the Wind Serpent Lord's Soul Core. The Shadow's Soul Core was pure white, and a layer of fog surrounded it. If one stared at it closely, it would resemble a carefully crafted artwork. Rhode glanced at his surroundings before making his way towards a brazier.
Upon reaching, he closed his eyes and stretched out his right hand.
Once again, the summoning circle appeared on his palm, followed by the system prompt which also emerged before him clearly.
[The Soul Core has been contaminated, Do you want it to be purified?]
Followed by Rhode's voice, the fog surrounding the Soul Core began to thicken as it swirled rapidly around the core.
This mystical scene left Lize stupefied. But she still managed to close her mouth and not make a sound. Despite not knowing what he was doing, she knew that he wasn't to be disturbed at this moment.
As the fog around the Soul Core became increasingly thick, it created a billow of clouds which rolled in the center of his palm. This phenomenon continued as it spun faster and faster, forming a whirlpool of fog. Slowly, red streaks of light appeared within the eye of the storm, and it gradually snowballed, consuming the remaining fog, turning the entire spectacle into a bright, red cloud. The fiery cloud then started to congeal, and it finally transformed into a crimson card which levitated on top of Rhode's palm.
[The Flame Killer (Fire Attribute): Ground Unit, Available for Fusion, Attack 10% chance to trigger burning effect, Special Skill --- Fire Breath (Born from the flame and die in flame. Bring its enemies eternal pain and destruction)
[1/10 of Red Lotus Deck collected, The Flame Killer]
But it wasn't done yet, because, at this very moment, Rhode took out the Gargoyle's Heart from his pocket.
Use the Gargoyle's Heart.
The Flame Killer.
Rhode spoke in his head.
[Target - The Flame Killer - Forced Evolution]
[Level upgrade finished]
The bright, crimson card started rotating once again. A resplendent flame crept around the card, and then it slowly faded.
Rhode then grabbed the card and studied the information written on it.
A picture of a fiery hound was painted on the front side of the card. At the top corner, a red circle with the letters "VI" were printed on it. As for the bottom corners of the card, two numbers, 5 and 3 represented the summoning spirit's attack and defense respectively.
When he flipped over the card, it displayed the card details.
[The Flame Killer (Fire Attribute): Ground Unit, Available for Fusion, Attack: 10% chance to trigger burning effect, Special Skill --- Fire Breath (Born forth from flame, and perishes in flames. Inflicts a calamity by delivering catastrophic destruction to lay them in eternal rest.) LV 10
Received the flame baptism: the Flame Guardian.
Fire Breath: Hot enough to melt steel, and no one will be able to get in its way,
Born forth from flame; perishes in flames. Explosive Type.]
Comparing it to the Spirit Bird's meager attack and defense power, which was at the level of ordinary creatures, the Flame Killer's attack was much better and it even reached Giant Beast level. Still, though its defense was low, Rhode believed that with the innate fire element, the card still had its uses.
After analyzing, Rhode kept the card, turned around and faced towards a dazed Lize.
"I'm ready, let's go."
Raws did not mention additional attendants in the room, so I added this line. Otherwise, it would seem as if several attendants appeared out of nowhere.