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 Summer rays spilled through the dense forest, forming a picturesque scene intertwined with lights and shadows. A refreshing breeze rustled the leaves and obstructed the heat waves. From time to time, warbles could be heard from the tranquil, serene forest. The uneven hills were covered in different layers of eye-pleasing green.

Rhode turned his attention from the landscape onto the map on his hand and drew a circle.

It had been two days since they left Deep Stone City. Within this period of time, their schedules were successfully carried out. The 25 mercenaries who had finally completed their hellish training after one and a half months had joined Rhode and his 30 men in the forest trail.

Although it seemed to be a very tough task to open up a path in Land of Atonement, Rhode didn't think so. He was very clear of the situation in Land of Atonement. That place used to be considered as the frontline of the Fortress. However, it was abandoned entirely after a few hundred years of battles. But it would be too exaggerating to treat the Land of Atonement as impoverished because of this. It had become a vast stretch of ruins after years of neglect and Rhode knew that the Fortress on the higher altitude in Land of Atonement still maintained a certain extent of its structure. As long as Rhode could break through the periphery and enter the Fortress, he could modify and repair the Fortress after triggering the Construction System. Then, he would be able to build the Summon Gate to link up between the stronghold in Deep Stone City and Land of Atonement using a Plane of Existence spatial tunnel.

Once the tunnel was established, Starlight with the stabilized rear assistance could clean up and reorganize the surrounding area. By then, it wouldn't be difficult to repair the connecting business roads and controlling this region.

Without a doubt, it was impossible to solely rely on this group of mercenaries to develop this region. However, Rhode also knew that there were many gathering spots of wanderers. Although their population wasn't much, they would still form an objective number together. If Rhode could obtain the help of these natives, the future developments would be favorable.

But, before that...

"Leader."

Randolf's voice sounded beside Rhode. Rhode shifted his attention from the map and turned towards the Ranger standing before him. After the battles in the midsummer festival, these newbies had finally matured. Furthermore, the generous rewards that Rhode had distributed to them allowed them to upgrade their equipment by leaps and bounds. Unlike in the past, now Randolf was equipped with a magical leather armor with a large camo cloak covering his body. A pitch-black, giant wooden bow hung behind his back diagonally - the quiver was stocked fully with magical arrows made by Lapis. Matching with two daggers hanging by his waist and a circle of knives hanging obliquely on him, Randolf seemed like a Ranger Master. However, his respectful, yet somewhat uneasy gaze sold out his identity.

"What's wrong?"

Rhode glanced at Randolf and asked. Right before their eyes was Deep Creek Village as according to plan and it was the final resting spot for Rhode and his group before entering the forest trail. But now...

"Leader. There seems to be something wrong ahead. We have investigated and realized that there's smoke rising from the village. I think that they are in a battle right now and I have sent Joey and the others to check out the situation. Should I get the others to ready themselves?"

"Go take a look."

Rhode kept the map into a fold in his clothes before gesturing to the back. The mercenaries behind Rhode got into preparations instantly as they gathered towards him.

Deep Creek Village was located by the edge of the Twilight Forest. This area was also considered as the civilization border area of Paphield. As soon as Rhode arrived at the mountainside, he saw billows of black smoke and sparks from flames.

Deep Creek Village was shrouded in thick smoke. Gazing vaguely from far, there were some people surrounding the perimeter of the village with weapons in hand while confronting the villagers. Perhaps the village might have fallen into the enemies' hands if it was an ordinary village. However, as a place of human settlement on the border of civilization, the defenses of Deep Creek Village were considerably in place. Tall, solid wall piled up by logs defended against the external threats. At least for now, they seemed to be safe.

The people who were attacking the village seemed very strange. Apart from the few of them, most weren't dressed in clothes. They were only covered by a few pieces of hide, exposing their bare feet and arms while brandishing weapons such as wooden clubs and machetes. They shouted from the outside as though they were primitives of the Stone Age. Behind the walls, there were a few hunters standing on the tower shooting arrows from their bows, trying to disperse the enemies surrounding their village. However, their manpower was limited, and the 'primitives' seemed to be experienced. Even though the guards were working very hard, they weren't effective.

"It's the Barbarians."

A senior mercenary said as he touched his beard and showed a look of disgust. Not only him, the other mercenaries were showing loathe and seriousness one after another. Rhode nodded and it was obvious that he knew the history of these people.

These 'primitives' didn't come from the Stone Age. As a matter of fact, they came from the outside the civilized border. Without a doubt, these people weren't nice. 80% of them were once criminals and even felons. After they had escaped from prison and execution grounds, they began to wander aimlessly. In order to avoid capture, almost all of them chose to head towards the outside of the civilized border where there were no law and order. This place served as a paradise of freedom for these criminals.

However, they lost everything when they achieved freedom. Outside the civilized border, there were no food, no water, and no clothes. In order to survive, these criminals began to gather and used the forest as their sanctuary to rob surrounding businesses, villages, and towns. The activity circle of these people was huge and they were extremely familiar with the terrain. Therefore, gradually, many merchants stopped passing through this route. Only the black market dealers who were peddling illegal goods would still take the risk in choosing this path.

But this didn't discourage the criminals. Instead, they turned their attention towards the villages since they weren't able to get supplies from the merchants. In fact, almost every village by the border had been plundered by these criminals. Sometimes, they would even snatch women in the village to satisfy their desires and reproduce further their lineage. Because of the remoteness of these places, the garrison troops were too far away to help and they couldn't prevent such crimes. Due to various reasons, these natives were unable to leave their hometown and they could only rely on themselves.

Therefore, these wandering criminals were named Barbarians by many mercenaries. Although these Barbarians had led an arduous life, the toughness which they endured outside the civilized border had given them strength and physique which exceeded ordinary humans. Even for many mercenaries, these Barbarians had become strong enemies.

Suddenly, the bushes beside Rhode began to tremble. Shortly after, Joey in a full black leather armor emerged quietly. Four other Thieves followed closely behind him.

"It's the Barbarians, Boss. There's many of them and they are ruthless..."

"How many of them in total?"

Rhode frowned and asked while Joey scratched his head before answering.

"About a hundred of them. They have almost surrounded the entire village. Although the villagers are still fending them off, I think they can't hold much longer... Boss, what should we do?"

"What should we do?"

Rhode swept a glance towards Joey as though he was looking at an idiot.

"We have to get rid of them, of course. Didn't you train hard for a moment like this?"

"Argh..."

Joey revealed an awkward smile. He knew what he should do, but there were just too many enemies. Although Joey had been through long hours of training and reached the standards of in-game players, a newbie was still a newbie. His heart pounded instantly at the sight of the sea of enemies.

However, this wasn't the issue for Rhode. In the semi-Plane of Existence, he had simulated battles in the mountains for more than once. Furthermore, the battle experiences of the mercenaries were very rich. Although the Barbarians were overwhelming in forces, Rhode knew clearly that they wouldn't stand a chance against his mercenaries.

Rhode had decided on his decision.

"Randolf, lead your men to occupy the right side of the high ground. Start attacking once you see my signal and I want you to crush them! Joey, I want you to send someone to wipe out those on the outside. Don't let them discover our presence here. You have three minutes!"

"Okay, Leader."

"Understood, Boss"

Both of them nodded quickly and scattered. Rhode turned towards everyone else.

"Follow me."

Rhode ordered.

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