After leaving Deep Creek Village, everyone set off for their final journey. Since Rhode knew that the Demons had gathered all the Barbarians, his previous plans were no longer valid. Now, they had to enter the forest trail and into Misty Mountains before reaching the Fortress to eliminate the Demons. However, it wouldn't be easy chasing them away.
Their journey gradually became rougher and rougher.
The forest trail was referring to the path connecting to the Misty Mountains. Many years ago, this path was used to connect the Fortress and other areas. However, it was abandoned and if it weren't for a few wild beasts, illegal merchants, and bandits, perhaps there wouldn't be any living creatures on this path. Even so, this route wasn't easy at all.
Although the mercenaries were on the road for a full day, they weren't tired. Instead, they were chit-chatting casually.
Rhode could only ignore their doings and wish that Lize didn't rescue that bumpkin (Vinny). If Rhode could turn back time, he would've left him to die. However, time couldn't be reversed and Rhode couldn't change this fact. All he could do was to ignore them and continue moving forward.
The sky was getting dark, however, this wasn't due to the passing of time. In fact, it was only noon, but the sky above everyone was dull and even the radiance of the sun was obscured by darkness.
This was one of the strange phenomena in Dragon Soul Continent. Although there was no difference in the timings for the sun to rise and set in areas under the protection of the Dragon Soul, the weakening order affected the time, climate and deviated everything from its normal track for the areas near the border. However, the areas under the protection of the Dragon Soul were ultimately limited. It was only the change in time and climate at this moment. But, the instant they left the orderly land, that was where the real dangers lurk.
Another reason why Rhode had chosen this region was that he hoped his men could get used to living in a place in a chaotic order. After all, Rhode's motive was to head into Land of Chaos to awaken the Dragon Soul in order to obtain his territory. If his men couldn't adapt to the environment, he would face a lot of trouble in the future.
Just as everyone came to the hillside along the abandoned path, Rhode suddenly stopped walking. He lifted his arm to stop everyone from advancing before scanning the forest that was shrouded in darkness. He placed his right hand by his mouth and spoke to the ring on his middle finger softly.
"Joey, what's the situation?"
Joey was sneaking when he heard Rhode's message. He scanned his surroundings before holding onto the earring on his right ear. That was a guild badge that Lapis had modified. After the victory in the Midsummer Festival, Rhode utilized a portion of the remunerations to purchase some precious and rare materials for alchemy in order for Lapis to create various equipment. Without a doubt, these badges couldn't create a set effect or aura, however, it could nimbly increase and change the abilities of its holder. One of the features was its capability to communicate between long distances. It allowed two-way communications through the resonance of magical arrays. After this helpful modification, the mercenaries with Rhode had become much more similar to the players which he had led in the game.
After confirming that the coast was clear, Joey let out a sigh of relief and replied.
"Boss, this place looks really strange. We have encountered four teams of Barbarians and they seemed to be on the patrol. Our brothers were nearly spotted by them, but, luckily we got past them."
"Report their strength and specific location. Where are you guys now?"
"On the right side of Misty Mountains... Some distance away from the Fortress which Boss mentioned. We can vaguely see them now. The defenses seem rigorous and right now, we are temporarily searching on the peripheral. The Barbarians are assembled into teams of ten and there are a total of five teams. In every team, there is a bald man in a black cloak which you had seen. They are patrolling every one hour and don't seem to be reporting to anyone."
"Understood. Stand by and I will lead the others to gather with you."
Rhode nodded in satisfaction before turning towards his men behind him.
"Although I know that all of you are tired, it isn't the time to rest now."
Rhode spoke and stared viciously at Vinny who was smiling widely. This was something which Rhode didn't wish to recall. That bastard said something which he shouldn't have and Anne was laughing non-stop which led to the mercenaries to burst into laughter. What depressed Rhode the most was that after this incident, the image which he meticulously shaped was ruined. Those mercenaries used to be highly respectful towards him, but now they didn't seem to be as respectful. Same goes for the few young lady Clerics with Lize. Previously, they didn't even dare to speak to him, but now they would even take the initiative to greet him. Furthermore, they would also gather and whisper secrets in each other's ears - Of course, Rhode knew what they were discussing about. To his disappointment, not only did Lize not lecture her apprentices, she joined in with them...
That damned bastard!
Rhode had no intentions of shaping an amiable and approachable image. Damn it. He even considered if he should wear a mask in the future.
"Get ready to strike."
Rhode sighed hopelessly before turning serious and said.
Although it was only noon, the forest was in total darkness. The faraway burning torches were the only sources of light in the darkness.
There... that's the Fortress.
Rhode's expression sunk as he gazed at the towering shadow. That was the Fortress which he remembered it to be. However, the state of the Fortress ruins was out of his expectations. After all, it was another player guild which had chosen this region and not his. At that time, the Munn Kingdom was not destroyed yet and Rhode was still a casual player who was uninterested in joining a guild. Many player guilds had chosen this territory to construct their Fortress.
The reason was simple as to why this place was still fresh in his memories. After conquering Land of Chaos, he realized that the player guild had constructed their Fortress in his territory. Not only that, the player guild harassed Rhode's Starlight occasionally. Without a doubt, Rhode was unable to put up with them any longer and they eventually started the first-ever guild war. In the end, the results were one-sided and Rhode took over the authority of the Fortress and at the same time, chased the player guild off the land.
Due to this experience, Rhode regarded this Fortress with high importance. This territory was an excellent choice and as long as he could control it, he wouldn't need to run through a thousand miles before entering Land of Chaos and waste too much manpower and resources.
In other words, this Fortress would be Rhode's front line and a place which he needed to operate the most.
"Boss, what's next?"
Hidden beside Rhode, Joey gazed nervously at the faraway Fortress. Joey had engaged in a certain extent of investigations on the Fortress before Rhode arrived. In the end, he was disappointed. Although Rhode had mentioned that the Fortress was not maintained for many years, the outer appearance seemed to be perfect. Even though it was clearly worn, it didn't pose a problem to those Barbarians. Joey and his companions tried to sneak into the Fortress but eventually failed. Most of the Barbarians were gathered outside the Fortress. Although they seemed to be negligent, their senses were highly sensitive and hard to deal with. Joey didn't know how to strike because, after all, there were about 300 of them and he only had 30. Furthermore, it was much easier to defend than to attack the Fortress. With the disadvantage in offensive strength, it gave Joey a headache on how they should proceed.
"Should we get Miss Gillian or Miss Marlene to cast some spells over?"
"Are you kidding?"
Rhode stared at him coldly. This Fortress would belong to him in the future and if it was destroyed by Gillian or Marlene, the one paying for the repairs would be himself. He wouldn't do such an idiotic thing and besides, he was prepared with a better idea.
Rhode turned around and beckoned to his mercenaries. The mercenaries instantly focused their attention back to their leader.
"I will split you guys apart into three groups. We will continue to keep in touch and strike from three directions at once."
Rhode paused and gestured with his hand.
"Lize, Marlene, Kafa, Ralph, and Snook. We will form a group together. The second group will consist of Joey and his men, in addition to Cland. The third group will be led by Marfa..."
Rhode nodded at the middle-aged mercenary.
"Lead Anne and Kars into the ditch on the left. There will be a sewer pipe which leads into the Fortress. I think it isn't in use now so it should be safe. Then, I want all of you to enter the first floor. Joey, lead your men to the cliff on the right and enter the second floor of the Fortress through the small trail. Remember to be careful and do not alert any enemies. Randolf, you will lead the Rangers and occupy the high positions to provide cover for Joey. After Joey and his men enter the hall, you can lead your men to distract the enemies. As for Anne, I want you to protect them here. Remember, don't act as you please. After seeing my signal, I want you to lead the remaining men for a frontal assault to finish the enemy."
Rhode extended his arm and made a hand sign.
"I will go ahead first. After ten minutes, Joey will move. 15 minutes later, Marfa you will go. Remember, if there are any doubts, notify me at once. Understand?"
"Good," Rhode nodded in satisfaction. "We're off."
These elites chosen by Rhode displayed their superiority. Although Rhode's grouping was decided on the go, the camaraderie between the 25 mercenaries was strong and they were familiar and acquainted with each other after the long period of training. After giving his command, Rhode quickly led his men away silently.
However, Lize and Marlene didn't expect that Rhode would lead the remaining mercenaries to a pitch-black cave instead of the nearby vicinity of the Fortress.
"What is this place, Mr. Rhode?"
Entering the cave, Marlene cast a small sphere of light to illuminate the path that they were taking. Marlene curiously observed the cave and she thought that this cave wasn't any different from the usual caves. The stalactites hanging upside down on the ceiling, and the ground was filled with ice-cold water. No matter what, this seemed nothing more than an ordinary cave.
"This is a secret path into the Fortress. The creator of this Fortress had once built this route to ensure they could escape in times of danger. Marlene, refrain from using large area of effect spells. Otherwise, we could all very well die here."
Rhode paused for a moment.
"And, this place isn't as safe as you think."
Everyone was astonished by Rhode's remark and suddenly, they could hear a slight noise coming from the darkness.
It sounded like a series of incoherent noises, but, it soon got louder, clearer and closer to them. The mercenaries gripped onto their weapon tightly and were prepared to strike. Marlene and Lize leaned against one another and cast a magic shield to prevent any possible ambushes.
Suddenly, a group of huge shadow revealed themselves from the magical radiance.
A knowledgeable mercenary screamed immediately after recognizing the figures. In a split second, Rhode struck.
Facing the swarm of Blood Bats, the Crimson Blade erupted like a shining thunder in the dark. The blade lights crisscrossed into a large net which struck the Blood Bats. In a blink of an eye, a dozen of bats crashed to the ground and turned to carcasses.
However, this wasn't enough to stop those enormous bats from attacking. They continued to let out ear-deafening screeches while flapping their wings to avoid Rhode's blade attacks.
These Blood Bats were strong and one meter in body length. They had sharp teeth and the paralyzing venom was their specialty. They were experts in paralyzing their prey with venom before sucking dry of their blood. Ordinary mercenaries would struggle in the face of these Blood Bats, however, the mercenaries which Rhode had trained and brought with him were above that standard.
Marlene shouted and a erected a fire wall quickly from the ground, separating the mercenaries from the Blood Bats. The mercenaries who were given time to brandish their weapons prepared to attack.