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 Lize and Marlene were stunned. They turned around subconsciously and witnessed a spectacular spark exploding in the hills above the village.

"Ambush!"

Both of them stood up instantly as they knew what that meant. In fact, Rhode had instructed Joey and a few other Thieves and Rangers to set up magical signals and traps after the battle with the Barbarians had ended. After all, all the Barbarians that attacked Deep Creek Village had been eliminated, and there was no news on the whereabouts of the remaining Barbarians that had escaped. According to Rhode's estimation, the Barbarians might send more men in search of their companions, and to prevent these people from raiding during midnight, Rhode commanded his men to set up traps and sentries at areas that were most prone for the Barbarians to appear. Now, it seemed to be effective.

The celebrating mercenaries and villagers instantly got into action upon noticing the sparks. They threw down their food and wine and picked up their weapons while the elderlies, children, and women hid into the nearby houses. The bustling celebration turned desolate instantly.

Marlene was moved by this scene as she finally understood the meaning of Lize's words. In a place like this, dangers would present themselves anytime. If you don't seize the time to enjoy your peaceful life, you might possibly lose everything the next second.

Suddenly, a glaring bolt of light flashed through the mountains and a ginormous fireball was seen whizzing towards the village.

A Mage?

Everyone was stunned at the fast-descending danger. Marlene focused her concentration on the huge fireball and lifted her wand high.

"Sudys!"

As soon as the young lady shouted, a flourishing magic formation emerged on the tip of the ruby in a blink of an eye. Dozens of Ice Swords materialized in midair and shot towards the fireball.

Bam! A violent explosion sounded the instant both spells collided. A reddish radiance shrouded the sky before dissipating in an instance.

"There's a Mage?"

Rhode and his men arrived at the plaza. Marlene turned to Rhode with a complicated look and nodded slightly.

"Yes. It should be an Outer Circle Mage. I can handle this."

Marlene lifted her wand once again and struck it on the ground.

"Tresan!"

The ground shook and the wooden palisades around the village began to distort. In a blink of an eye, they were replaced by a thick perimeter of 'tree fences'. The mercenaries and militias readied their weapons for the upcoming battle. Although the sky was under the protection of the Light Dragon, it was midnight after all. The surrounding dense forest around the village had allowed darkness to become the only tone in the dusky forest. Therefore, even though the mercenaries and militias wished to check out the situation, they couldn't see clearly how many people were lurking in the shadows.

Shalala.

A shadow suddenly appeared on the tip of the fence. The nervous crowd instantly pointed their weapons at the target. However, they let out sighs of relief after recognizing that person.

"Joey? How's the situation?"

"Woah. The situation doesn't look good, Boss."

Joey somersaulted off the fence and landed silently on the grass patch. He darted towards Rhode and wiped off the sweat on his forehead.

"There are so many Barbarians. Oh god, we'd just removed a bunch of them but their reinforcement came! There's so many of them!"

"How many?"

Rhode puckered his brows and asked hurriedly. Joey pondered for a moment and replied with a bitter expression.

"Similar in the morning with about a few hundred of them. These men were tough to deal with because they had split up in groups of three to five and dispersed into the forest. We were discovered after succeeding four times. Our remaining brothers are investigating now so we can figure out how many are near us. Also..."

Joey paused and turned to Marlene with lingering fears.

"They have a Mage within their ranks."

"I know," Marlene nodded. "But he's no match for me."

"Nonono, Miss Marlene. It's not like this."

To Marlene's surprise, Joey waved his hands and displayed a fearful face.

"There are many, many Mages and not only one! I saw at least five of them."

"What?"

Rhode and Marlene were stunned. At least five Mages? How is that possible? Mages were rare and valuable. Even if a Mage couldn't survive in this world, one could still serve the bandits, killer guilds or secret evil groups. Furthermore, Mages could even ask for women, gold and authority in the mercenary group and one didn't even need to come to this civilized border to mix with the Barbarians.

If it was only two Mages, it might be due to their own peculiarity. However, it seemed that things weren't this way at all because how could a Barbarian clan gather five Mages at the same time?

However, before Rhode could figure it out, the second wave of fireballs struck. But the intensity was different this time. As if the Mages were confirming Joey's report, four fireballs were fired at the same time from three different directions.

"Hmph!"

Marlene let out an enraged snarl as she chanted for a dozen Ice Swords and projected them towards the fireballs. A series of explosion sounded above the village and a similar reddish radiance blanketed the night sky.

"How did the Barbarians gather so many Mages?"

Rhode gazed towards the afterglow of explosions in the sky. Things were too odd and Rhode began to suspect if this was a scheme plotted by the Parliament. However, it didn't seem so because the Deep Creek Village was located far from civilization. Even if the Barbarians were to destroy everything, the outside world wouldn't be affected at all. Moreover, there were no treasures or striking target in this area worthy enough for the Parliament to take action.

But, other than them, who else would send their Mages to aid the Barbarians? Could it be that someone in the Barbarian clan had awakened his magical talent? That's ridiculous because the knowledge of magic wasn't something everyone could learn. It would still be reasonable if one or two Barbarians awakened and mastered the knowledge through comprehensive studies. But it wasn't possible that all of them went through the same process?

Bam! A loud explosion shook Rhode from his analysis. He turned around and witnessed the red flames above him slowly disappearing. Marlene laid down her wand and took in a few deep breaths. Although the spells that the enemies cast were low-level spells, it took a toll on her after handling three to five of them at once. Marlene showed a complicated expression and harbored some doubts.

"Why do I feel that... these people don't feel like Mages?"

"Eh?" Rhode turned towards Marlene. "What do you mean?"

"It's simple, Mr. Rhode. Mages choose their spells according to situations. It is necessary for us to know how to organize different spells and handle various situations. There's never a Mage who could defeat the world using just one spell. But, these people..."

Marlene looked towards the hills in doubt.

"Somehow, I feel that they can only cast the fireball spell. If one of them had chosen to cast a rain of fire arrows instead, they might have a chance to break through our defenses even though the fire arrows are less powerful than the fireball. Furthermore, the houses and fences are made of wood. If they were set ablaze, we would be in deep trouble. I've already prepared myself to extinguish the flames with Water Elemental spells. But, those "Mages"... Apart from casting simple fireball spells from different locations, there is no variation whatsoever. No Mages are that foolish."

Suddenly, seven to eight fireballs were released towards the small town from the forest.

Only fireballs?

Rhode agreed with the oddity. Usually, there wouldn't be any Mages who would choose to battle in such a simple style. Even though the fireballs were powerful, the speed was extremely slow which were meaningless to those who were prepared for them. Amongst the players, the fireballs were used as the finishing blow after restricting their opponent's movements. There were no idiots who would start casting fireballs at the start of a battle and keep at it non stop. Could it be that this group of people were fanatic believers of the once popular Five Fireballs God?

Rhode came up with a countermeasure.

"Alright, Marlene."

Rhode turned to Marlene who was furiously attempting to stop the on-coming fireballs. She was indeed furious. Although she didn't know who these people were, their display of skills had left her ashamed for all the Mages. There were no tactic, no attainment in self-cultivation, and even wisdom involved. Are they just a bunch of fire lizards who knew how to spew fireballs only? How dare they call themselves a Mage? For the honor and reputation of all Mages, they have to die! No, they need to die! It is a blasphemy towards all Mages in this world!

Although Marlene didn't know why this bunch of idiots loved fireballs so much, Rhode had vaguely figured out the reason. Since they loved to cast fireballs and nothing else, Rhode wouldn't need to waste Marlene's energy anymore. There was a more suitable way of dealing with them.

"Gillian."

Rhode snapped his fingers in the air. Shortly after, the fox-eared young lady emerged from the crowd casually.

"Is it finally my turn to fight, Master? Gosh, I didn't have the chance to perform earlier... I'm so bored..."

Rhode held Gillian back in the previous battle because he meant to use it as an opportunity to toughen the newcomers. An insanely powerful being like Gillian didn't need to toughen up at all, which was why it would be a waste of her time to participate in the battle. Since these enemies used only fireballs as their attacks, it couldn't get any better for Gillian. After all, there were basically no other beings who held higher authority than this young lady.

The fireballs had gathered in the middle of the village like a huge bomb descending downwards. This horrified the militias, but the mercenaries were as calm as water. They had seen many things that were scarier than this when they were training in the Sphere of Mystery.

Gillian lifted her chin up and revealed a sly smile. The young lady extended her arms and clapped lightly.

The massive fireballs exploded suddenly as the soon as the clap sounded. However, the flame currents didn't disappear as fast as when Marlene dealt with them. Instead, they began to merge and formed a sea of flames swirling in the sky which shrouded the entire village.

The militias shrieked at the sight of this strange phenomenon. Some of them had even buried their faces in the ground and hugged their heads as though the flames would transform into a rainstorm that would fall on them any second now. However, they lifted their heads quickly after realizing that the flames didn't touch them at all.

To their surprise, the spreading sea of flames had solidified completely and transformed into a red polyhedral crystal barrier. The fireballs were once again cast from the forest, but, they were absorbed into the barrier silently like a waterdrop falling in a lake.

"Good job."

Rhode nodded at the Fire Elemental barrier and asked.

"Do you have a way to capture these people alive?"

"That's for sure, Master."

Gillian smiled cheekily as she placed her finger by her lips and winked at Rhode.

"But, before that, I need to prepare for a little something."

The fox-eared young lady stretched out her arms with her palms facing towards the sky and a huge, fiery red gem appeared magically. It was glistening with scorching radiance and the burning core within the transparent gem could be seen vaguely.

"That's the Ruby of Flames..."

Lize and Marlene stared with widened eyes as they knew where this gem was from - This was the most expensive gift that Lydia had given out during the Midsummer Festival. This treasure from the Fire Plane of Existence could be said as invaluable. Although it didn't worth an entire country, it would still be valued enough for one or two cities.

However, no one knew why Gillian needed this. Rhode had asked her before but was answered with a self-righteous "The Ruby of Flames originally belongs to me and it is only right that it is returned to me.". In the end, Rhode wasn't able to figure out why did Gillian ask for this gem.

Many of them were curious and some of the mercenaries were surprised and drooling over the beautiful gem hovering above Gillian's palms. The fox-eared young lady winked at Rhode.

"Master, weren't you curious about the capabilities of this gem? Now, let me show you... This gem was stored with my energy and it's about time for me to have them back."

Gillian shut her eyes and lifted her arms gradually.

"Darker than dusk. Bloodier than red. Buried in the torrent of time. In the name of the great..."

Lize and Marlene held their breaths as they had never heard of such mysterious, ancient, and terrifying incantation.

Could this be an ancient incantation?

Rhode was even more troubled than the young ladies. He quickly interrupted Gillian's soliloquizing.

"Wait. What are you doing?"

"Aiya. Master, can you don't interrupt me? This adds more to the atmosphere, isn't it?

Gillian pouted but quickly scanned her surroundings and revealed a playful smile.

"So then, in the name of the Fire Lord... awaken! Return to the world, Flames of the Red Lotus."

Kacha. The beautiful gem let out a crisp sound and a line of nasty crack appeared on its smooth surface. Then, it shattered to pieces.

The flames rushed towards the sky and shrouded everything in its capacity. The heat waves that were spreading rapidly forced everyone to retreat. In a blink of an eye, the flame waves contracted instantly as though there was an absorbing force. They gathered and transformed into a bright, red card between Gillian's arms.

Gillian smiled proudly at this precious card before winking at Rhode playfully.

"Spell of the Red Lotus. With my command... Spread my glory."

Gillian held her palms together and the bright red card shattered.

"Spell of the Red Lotus, Flame Talisman - Sulfur River."

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