Time was Rhode's greatest enemy.
After the Midsummer Festival, there were only six months left before the winter break. Before that happened, Rhode had a very heavy task, which composed of building the fortress, completing the two five-star missions to make sure his guild wouldn't be relegated, and training his men to be prepared for the war that was likely to happen next year. Through Shawn's intelligence network, Rhode had gotten a lot of information about the Country of Light. As he expected, there was internal turmoil in the Country of Light and the support towards the Head of Parliament had also fallen to the extreme, making his re-election next year difficult.
However, not everything happened like before. From the intelligence report that he got, he learned that he had successfully dealt with the trade route incident, which led the trade route to be reopened and had made the internal opposition in the Country of Light less intense than what happened in game history. On the other hand, this caused Archduke Lydia to have enough energy to deal with what might have happened to the Country of Light, since Paphield had not caused any disturbance. Rhode trusted Lydia's political wisdom, and before he left Golden City, he also had a brief, private conversation with her. By that time, Rhode had pointed out the threat coming from the Country of Light vaguely to Lydia, but she seemed to already have her own plan. Because of that, Rhode couldn't say too much about it. Now he knew that knowing the future wasn't always something good. Although he knew what might happen, it didn't mean that he could persuade others to believe in it because they thought that there were still countless possibilities in what the future could hold. For example, Rhode knew that the Country of Darkness would definitely take this opportunity to attack, but for those who lived in the present, it was still a question of whether the Country of Darkness would attack or not.
Fortunately, Lydia also knew that the successor to the new Dark Dragon's soul holder was a very powerful man, and she also knew what was going on in the Country of Darkness. With that in mind, Rhode did not speak more. Since Lydia already knew about the Dark Dragon, and now, without the troubles from Paphield and the Ocean Trade Route, there was probably no more problems. Of course, if history did change, then it would be for the best. However, if history didn't changed, it would be important for him to plan ahead.
Although the situation didn't seem bad, Rhode felt that it was somehow bound to come to an end.
In the game, the reason the Country of Light caused some conflicts in Soraka Mountain was because the support for the Head of Parliament had dropped, so they colluded with military generals in an attempt to start a local war in Soraka Mountain. They hoped they would gain back the people's support by doing so.
However, those stupid old men didn't expect that this time, the Country of Darkness would not show any restraint, The reason was simple: the new Dark Dragon soul holder was strong. After he ruled, he had made some changes to the hierarchical system in order to strengthen his country.
The Country of Darkness was a very hierarchical country. It wasn't solely determined by its system, but also by the people who lived in it. In the Country of Darkness, most who lived there were dark creatures like death knights, lichs, ghouls, vampires, dark elves, etc. Since most of the Country of Darkness's residents were undead, it also caused them to be classified based on their level of strength. For example, low-level lichs couldn't fight high-level death knights, while ordinary ghouls couldn't disobey the vampires' orders. This was determined by the qualities of the undead themselves. Since they had already lost their lives, they survived by relying on unnatural forces, and because of this, their strength directly determined their intelligence and ability. That's why the Country of Darkness's hierarchy was so rigid since there was no way that a high-level vampire could talk with a ghoul whose IQ was not yet fully developed and couldn't even communicate properly.
So in the Country of Darkness, the whole system of pyramids existed. At the top was the Dark Dragon itself, and below him were the Four Legendary Demon Generals: 'Spirit Chaser' Balende, 'Blood Countess' Ashvril, 'Conqueror' Garcia, and 'Angel of Sorrow' Charlie.
Among them, Balende, Ashvril, and Charlie were undead, vampire, and fallen angel respectively, and the 'The Conqueror' Garcia was human. This power structure had lasted for many years until the new Dark Dragon soul holder appeared.
In order to strengthen the country, the new Dark Dragon soul holder, Ian, had promoted several 'lower races', including the dark elves and the grey dwarves, which naturally resulted in conflicts between the old nobles and new gatekeepers. After all, political resources were limited; the cake was only so big that if one more person appeared, one would have one less piece. Naturally, the four legendary generals also despised those lower races and didn't want to share their resources with them.
Because of that, the Country of Darkness was currently in a very volatile political situation; the new authority holders needed to show enough strength to prove that they were qualified for it. The old nobles, on the other hand, needed to protect the interests and dignity of their own race. For such matters, action was far more important that mere empty talk.
The best way to solve these disputes was through a war. Once the war began, the Country of Darkness would have access to additional resources and land that could be allocated to the new authorities, while the old nobility could also show enough power and glory to maintain their position. War was also the quickest and most convenient way for the new authorities that yearned for recognition and advancement to gain power and show their importance.
However, the Country of Light paid no heed to the undercurrents of its neighbors. It was also foolish enough to think that their provocation would be the same as before, which caused both sides to fight each other and then declare the situation tense. They used this opportunity to spread alarmist rumors that would at best lead to a local war, which would end soon. They had no idea that they were giving the Country of Darkness an excuse to start a war. Soon, the Country of Darkness had escalated a local war into a full-scale war.
Rhode could only persuade Lydia to be careful, but he could not stop the Country of Light's Parliament. If they were foolish enough to give them this excuse, then there was nothing he could do. Most likely, even Lydia had no way to stop it. He could persuade a man by telling him it was very dangerous to tease that fierce hound, but if the person was determined to go up and get bit, he wouldn't be able to prevent it.
If that hound ended up biting off his neck, that was even more out of his reach.
Had it not because the Munn Kingdom was located between the two countries, Rhode would have been happier if the Country of Darkness had attacked the Country of Light earlier and left the other side defenseless. At least then, they wouldn't have the time or energy to bother the Munn Kingdom.
Unfortunately, this possibility did not exist. In the end, they had to figure out the situation themselves.
Rhode nodded slightly as he stood on the balcony while looking at the mercenaries.
"Are they the ones you guys have chosen?"
Canary was standing beside Rhode and she smiled. After she and Mini Bubblegum appeared, the entire guild's structure had changed again, though not much in general. Marlene was still in charge of the vice leader's affairs, Lize was still the representative of the clerics, and Shauna was also still the leader of the stronghold guards, and there were no changes in Kavos and Anne's duties. Canary and Mini Bubblegum were just responsible for the training, and since they couldn't leave the stronghold, there was no way for them to do any heavier work.
However, in reality, those two held the most authority in the entire guild besides Rhode, and because of that, everyone in guild except for Rhode had to train under them.
At this time, everyone found that their training methods to be really different-of course, this was thanks to the Sphere of Mystery.
After activating the Sphere, Rhode could create a variety of scenarios and enemies to train them in. Those who failed wouldn't die, but they would be forced out, which was very similar to a dungeon in games. And in fact, Rhode had utilized it precisely as a dungeon.
For these mercenaries, this period of training was a nightmare for them. First, they were all divided into different groups. Next, they would be led into the phantom space by Canary and Mini Bubblegum, where they would meet the enemy.
In the beginning, their demands were very simple. They only told them to defeat the enemies and complete the task within the given time frame. But as the training progressed, rules and restrictions began to multiply. For example, the cleric had to guarantee how many people would survive when the training was completed, and the fighters who were responsible for defense had to ensure how many casters would survive to the end. They needed to learn not only how to utilize their ability to the fullest, but also learn how to avoid attacks, cooperate with others, and protect themselves and their companions. They had to learn how to improve their 'map awareness and foresight'. Honestly, they had no idea what those two ladies meant.
Those mercenaries were miserable, but so were Canary and Mini Bubblegum.
The biggest difference between a player and NPC was their attributes and talents. The player's talent tree was common and had the tendency to focus on one direction. Take Canary: since she specialized in high DPS, she naturally had to maximize her Fire and Wind element. As Mini Bubblegum specialized in crowd control, her talents were mostly support-based.
In other words, the player's talents were too straight-forward and expectable. On the other hand, NPC's talents were lopsided. It was no wonder; since they were not players, they couldn't see their talents' development. They were just training based on their intuition and no one was perfect. After all, one couldn't expect a cleric to have high DPS or a mage to be a MT. If that were the case, the effects would be really tragic.
Mini Bubblegum had complained to Rhode more than once; she felt miserable that she had to bring a bunch of rookies who had never played online games to conquer a dungeon while she gave them random orders. What's even more depressing was that they couldn't 'reset character and replay', which had become a popular phrase among mercenaries in the Starlight guild. Followed by her repeated complaints, when they thought that someone was doing a poor job, a mercenary would pat each other on the shoulder in Mini Bubblegum's manner and say, "You can't do it, go reset your character and replay..."
Of course, they didn't even know what that actually meant.
At first, many people were not satisfied with the rigorous training. They were only forcing themselves to continue in the face of Canary and Mini Bubblegum. But with the development of their training, they were surprised to find that their own strength had improved by leaps and bounds. They used to train themselves, but they couldn't improve in 10 days or even half a month. However, now, after almost every day of training, they could feel that they were improving, and not just a little.
Actually, it was also because of the bonus from the Sphere of Mystery, where the training speed was tripled within its sphere of influence. Naturally, this effect had naturally affected them quite a lot. More importantly, Rhode, Canary, and Mini Bubblegum had been digitizing their efforts and visualizing them in the so-called talent tree. It was like a man who was artistic, but didn't have the slightest mathematical mind. If he didn't level up his 'artistic' talents and instead added all his skills to 'mathematical' talents, as a result, he failed to develop his abilities. His potential was not enough to achieve the highest mathematical skills and ultimately accomplished nothing. Now, Rhode and the others were giving the mercenaries a proper 'leveling-up guide' by watching the way they fought. Some of them were good at defending and some of them liked to attack. Some people had good skills order, while some people had a strong sense of the overall situation. The reason these people had not been able to make breakthroughs was partly because of this. They weren't able to see their talent tree and the conflict between it and their specialization. Naturally, it was impossible for them to make good judgments and training directions. Now, with Rhode's guidance, the mercenaries found the right direction, and training naturally became more and more comfortable for them. Although their training bore fruits, Rhode was already nearly worn out in just the first half of the month. He needed to follow every training they had and watch their battles and after training, he talked to them one by one while pointing out the main points such as their training direction and their deficiencies that needed to be filled.
Marlene and others were not idle; though their training direction had already been specified by Rhode, they still had to perform their own tasks. They not only had to fight with the team, but were also in charge of giving orders, organizing the battlefield, and directing their men. Marlene, as Rhode's vice leader, needed to master the overall situation and learn to make adjustments at any time. Lize, as the leader of clerics, had to lead all the clerics to protect and heal the other mercenaries. They both seemed to have a very high understanding towards this matter and had done a very good job.
However, Anne... Rhode could only shake his head helplessly.
At first, Rhode and Canary had the idea of having Anne lead the Shield Warriors. But while Anne indeed stood out in individual battle... they were really dumbstruck after they saw her leading the team. Anne only commanded them with the two easiest command: "Let's go, everyone! Come with me!" and "You go first! I will handle this!"
Such orders were certainly not a good way to integrate the whole team.
Eventually, Rhode had to make a decision and he let Anne be responsible for protecting Lize and the other casters. In a regular war, usually the MT was divided into two layers: one for external protection and the other layer for internal. Rhode's original idea was for Anne to be responsible for external and internal protection at the same time. But now, it looked like it was already good enough for her to be responsible for the internal protection. As for the external protection... he could only find someone else to do it. Since it would be a long process to find someone, for now, Rhode himself would be responsible for it.
Despite the Sphere's bonus, it took Rhode a full month and a half to achieve his goal. It was almost June now, and Rhode was ready to go to the Land of Atonement. His first goal was to build the fortress, and then do two five-star missions afterwards.
"How many people are there?"
"There are 25 people in total, Leader. That's exactly the number of one party. Their loyalty is beyond question, and they also have the strength to stand the test."
Rhode sighed when he heard Canary's reply. He looked towards the 25 mercenaries who were not standing in a straight line sternly. Though they were not many, Rhode knew very well that these 25 people were the elites who had passed all the training and accomplished their goals perfectly. These 25 five people had even acquired a certain level of a player's strength.
"These 25 people consist of 11 Swordsmen, 2 Shield Warrior, 3 Clerics, 5 Rangers, and 4 Thieves. Including Marlene, Lize and Anne... I don't think that there will be any problems."
"I hope so."
Rhode nodded, seeming a little relieved. He had been very tired for this one month and a half, but it somewhat made him feel a bit nostalgic. It reminded him of the time he had just formed the guild. In order to give the new members a sense of belonging, Rhode helped them conquer the dungeon, gave them some tips on how to fight, reminded them about the main points over and over again, and made them feel less nervous... Looking back now, that nanny-like's life was tiring, but it was substantial and Starlight's foundation was also built that way. Some of them had chosen to leave, but most stayed in the end.
But among his current members, how many would stay in the end?
"I'll leave the stronghold in your hands. Keep an eye and contact me if anything happens... Also, take care of Christie for me. "
"I understand, Leader."
Canary nodded and smiled. Then, she looked at Rhode once again.
"Bubble has a good relationship with her and I don't think you need to worry about that."
"I know. That's why I'm worried about it... Sorry for troubling you."
Rhode wryly smiled as he heard Canary's reply. Just as she had said, Mini Bubblegum and Christie indeed had a great relationship. They were surprised at Christie's presence at first, but quickly accepted her. For Christie, Mini Bubblegum was the only person who was almost the same age as her, so it was natural that they had a better relationship with each other. Mini Bubblegum also liked Christie's calm and gentle manners rather than those stoic NPCs who kept calling her 'Lady'.
Rhode certainly wasn't concerned about their relationship; he was just worried that Mini Bubblegum would pass some of her bad habits to Christie... If that were the case, then Rhode definitely would be terrified by it. So, in desperation, Rhode had no choice but to ask Canary to pay attention to Mini Bubblegum and not let that crazy girl infect Christe with her eighth-grader disease. Otherwise, Rhode really wouldn't know what to do if the obedient Christie became like her.
"When are you going to depart, Leader?"
"In two more days, we'll set off once all the preparations are ready. I'd like to overcome all the obstacles in the forest path by July."
Hearing until here, she looked down as if she were thinking about something. Then, she lifted her head and whispered in Rhode's ear.
"Well, later... meet me at the back, Leader."