Matt's arrival signalled the end of Rhode's final worries. This also meant that Starlight was on the path towards self-sufficiency in income. Earning income was always the weakness of all guilds and as long as income was secured, they could shift their attention to lowering failure rates on missions and the death rates of mercenaries. These weren't difficult for Rhode and as a matter of fact, he had ordered Canary and Bubble to simulate all the mid-range and above levels dungeon BOSSes in the mirage for the repetitively training of mercenaries. At least for now, the mercenaries were familiar with their attacking patterns and the next challenge for them would be the actual battles.
After their discussion, Rhode checked on what Matt was up to all this while. After all, although it wasn't that straightforward collaborating with Starlight, Matt felt that it was better than not doing any business at all.
Matt's answer startled Rhode a little. Actually, this fat merchant had made his decision from the very start, but all this while, he hadn't clearly understood the situation. The Silver Libra might be a small trade association, but it controlled many territories in the South. Matt also knew that once he began his collaboration with Starlight, he could forget about going to those areas and he might as well sell them off for high prices, as most of the land in the Southern Port was extremely expensive. Matt didn't leak any information about his collaboration and he had just informed them that he needed to sell his territories due to business issues. Fortunately, this didn't peak any suspicions with the other merchants and they quickly snatched up the territories, which in turn earned Matt a huge profit. This was also part of the plan that Matt plotted earlier. He was clear that if he sold his territories after news of him collaborating with Starlight spread, the South would definitely lower his land prices on purpose. But now, everything worked in Matt's favor. Not only did he earn a big fortune, he also threw away a burden that plagued his trade association. Now that Matt had thought things through, although he lost his territories in the Southern Port, he would still be able to find territory in Golden City using his connections and his newly-earned sum of money. If the business transactions were as successful as Rhode had predicted, perhaps Matt's business would turn out even bigger than it was in the Southern Port.
This fat merchant was indeed quite scheming.
Since both sides had come to an agreement, their following negotiations were swift. And since both were business partners, Silver Libra would naturally need to build their branches in the Land of Atonement. After negotiations with Rhode, Matt agreed to send some of his production occupations, such as the miners and pharmacists, over. After all, Matt was clear about the rumors regarding the Land of Atonement. If Rhode really demolished the threats there, Matt would make a fortune with the plentiful natural resources even without the magical potions.
After clarifying both their stances in this collaboration, Matt considered this a win-win situation for both the trade association and the guild. On the other hand, Rhode wasn't calculative over these small matters as his principle was that the guild would forever be on top of the trade association. Other than that, he wouldn't mind giving small compensations to the trade association. Since both sides had a mutual understanding, the following contract signing was naturally successful.
But Matt gave Rhode some reminders before he left.
"When I arrived here, I saw a few guys from the Southern trade associations and those weren't any good people. Mr Rhode, I would like to remind you that you may face some troubles this time... Because Rosen's son was one of them."
This news indeed surprised Rhode. However, he didn't take it to heart. It was nothing new for the son to avenge for his father. Moreover, with Canary and Mini Bubblegum here and his own strength much more powerful now, Rhode didn't think that Rosen's son would threaten him in any way.
So Rhode wasn't too mindful of Matt's reminder.
Instead, what caught Rhode's attention was the other bunch of people.
After receiving Rhode's invitation, the Church Saints arrived at the stronghold the next morning. This was the first time Rhode met the members of the Church.
Compared to other organizations, the Church had always been a place with more females than males, at the ratio of five to one. Of course, this wasn't solely because the gender of the Judgement & Ruling Twin Dragons were female, but more due to the nature of the Church. In the Church, there were mainly Clerics, Pharmacists, and some members responsible for financial services. Also, these responsibilities mainly required meticulous care, which was why it was female-dominant. Whereas the males in the Church mainly took up the role of Holy Knights, Guardian Knights, and other external jobs. These people standing before Rhode were no exceptions. Amongst the five, three were young females and the remaining two were middle-aged Holy Knights in silver armor. From their darkened complexions and determined eyes, the two Holy Knights seemed to be experienced veterans.
Whereas for the three ladies, they were dressed in white robes which represented their identities as Clerics. And from their standing positions, the one in the middle seemed to carry the highest rank. She was in her mid-20s and couldn't be considered a heavenly beauty, but more of an ordinary lady. However, perhaps due to their occupational traits, she transmitted an irreproachable feel just by standing there.
As Rhode personally welcomed them, the lady in the middle smiled and solemnly bowed.
"Greetings, Mr. Rhode. I am the emissary of the Church, Lilia Daniel Cranfield. It is my honor to receive your invitation."
"I should be the one thanking you, Miss Emissary."
Rhode nodded slightly and placed three fingers from his right hand to his left shoulder before returning the bow.
"I couldn't ask for more to receive the assistance from the guardians of order."
Noticing Rhode's gesture, the eyes of the other emissaries standing behind Lilia brightened. Their gazes towards Rhode seemed to be much kinder now.
"Huhuhu, Mr. Rhode has no need to be this modest with us."
After bowing, Lilia immediately straightened her posture and chuckled softly behind her palm.
"Besides... We have met before. Could it be that you've forgotten?"
Rhode was slightly surprised by Lilia's comment. After taking a close look at the lady before his eyes, he frowned.
"It seems that you've really forgotten."
Lilia revealed a hopelessly bitter smile at Rhode's expression.
"Do you recall when you first defeated the Devils in Blackrock Depths and reported back to us?"
"Ah... That was you."
Rhode finally recalled. After defeating the Devils in Blackrock Depths and returning to the Mercenary Association to report the results, there were indeed members of the Church present. However, at that point in time, Rhode's head was filled with concerns over the Keller Family and the Country of Light, which was why he didn't notice her. As Lilia mentioned, Rhode remembered that he did speak to her and they even interacted for a while. But at that point in time, Rhode didn't plan to work his way with the Church yet, and he only cleared the mission as an investment for future advancement for his relationship with the Church. He didn't expect the returns to come back so quickly.
Under Rhode's invitation, the members of the Church stepped into the stronghold and arrived at the living room. After both parties sat down, Lilia once again spoke.
"Mr. Rhode, regarding our intentions, I guess Miss Shauna has already mentioned them to you."
"That's right, Miss Lilia."
Rhode lifted the teacup and slightly nodded in agreement.
"I can guarantee that our guild welcomes the Church to the Land of Atonement. Besides, if there's a need, I can even leave an area in our fortress for the Church's operations. Of course, I guess you are also clear that as the manager of the Land of Atonement, we must go through a certain extent in administration and restriction."
"That's for sure, Mr. Rhode. I can guarantee that the Church will definitely not bring you any trouble. Also, to prove our sincerity, we are willing to pay a certain amount of management fee. Furthermore, before we engage in any of our activities, we will take the initiative to report to your guild to prevent conflicts and controversies."
"That's for the best."
Rhode let out a sigh of relief in his mind. It seemed that the Church was just as nice to approach as they were in the game. The civilians and believers of the Twin Dragons were low profile in most of the places and due to their willingness to cooperate, many regions were willing to accept the presence of the Church. If not, nobody would ever welcome a bossy and domineering organization.
"I can also promise you, Miss Lilia, that our guild will not obstruct the activities of the Church. If your Church requires any assistance, you can also look for us. Everyone is a civilian of social order and to withstand chaos, our objective is the same."
Lilia couldn't help but shoot Rhode a few curious glances before replying.
"Pardon my rudeness, Mr. Rhode... Are you a believer of the Church?"
It was no wonder Lilia had such suspicions. After all, this young man seemed so experienced in these two meetings that they've had. Not only did he show respect for the Church, he also knew when to use specific hand gestures which the Church used internally. This was rarely seen in the believers because in the Church, although the differences between hand gestures weren't huge, they had totally different meanings. However, Rhode clearly knew which hand gesture to use and furthermore, his views on social order... was much determined that most believers.
Rhode thought for a moment. In the game, he once brushed his relationship up with the Church to 'worship' level, which could count him as a Church believer. However, right now, even though he wasn't hostile to the Church and he even had a favorable impression of them, he still couldn't be considered as a believer.
"I'm regretful to say that I'm not a believer of the Church. But I can say that... the Church is an important friend of mine."
"That's an interesting analogy."
Rhode's answer brightened Lilia's eyes. She wasn't furious that Rhode didn't admit that he was a believer of the Church, but instead, the lady nodded as if she understood something about him.
"It is the Church's honor to have a friend like you... Mr. Rhode. I think you are also aware that we are not here solely for the matter regarding the Land of Atonement, right?"
"I'm aware of it."
Rhode nodded, and at this moment, Lilia sat up straight and her smile turned dignified.
"To be honest, Mr. Rhode. The Church has never heard of the battle styles for Clerics that you have on hand. You can even say that if we didn't see it for ourselves, we wouldn't even believe that Clerics could have such a battle style."
Lilia paused for a moment before she continued.
"Not only that, we inquired about the specific few Clerics from the Mercenary Association and I am aware that you brought them along for an adventure. And what surprised us was that you actually chose Clerics to face those evil Undead Creatures. The results were remarkable. I got to admit that this was a huge discovery for our Church."
Lilia ended her sentence with a stern look on her face. In fact, she didn't make known to Rhode that his doings had caused controversies in the Church. The reason was fairly simple because it had always been the duties of Holy Knights and Archbishops to banish Undead Creatures in all these years that the Church had been was established. Clerics would usually not battle. First, it had always been difficult for their spells to be effective in aggressive battles. Secondly, although many tried to attack using spells, they failed to grasp the crucial points. So in the end, for safety reasons, the Church divided both sides of the classes, where Clerics were responsible for supporting roles and the Holy Knights and Archbishops were responsible for dealing with enemies. It wasn't because the Church was inflexible, but mainly because this style of battle was be the most beneficial and secure. And since that was the case, they didn't need to risk losing Clerics, who were incapable for battles.
And after the battle in the Silent Highland, the Church immediately had internal disputes over the roles of the Clerics. Although Clerics took on supporting roles within adventures in the Silent Highland, their duties weren't only supporting from the backlines, but to support attackers in weakening enemy forces. This brought a new perspective to the Church and due to this, some people began to suggest modifications for their roles. After all, there were many more Clerics in the Church as compared to Archbishops or Holy Knights. Although Clerics weren't able to take on frontal battles, their weakening of enemy forces could decrease the tremendous pressure of their attackers, which was naturally a good thing.
However, there were a few people who disagreed with this perspective and their concerns were reasonable. Because no matter what, Clerics didn't have much defense capability. Once they met any dangers, they could only rely on others for protection, which would obstruct advancement in battle. Therefore, they thought that the most appropriate choice was to follow the safest, traditional method, which was to leave Clerics at the backlines and not take part in the charge.
Initially, in the Church, both opinions were met with a deadlock. However, after Lize managed to guard against Rosen's rapid attacks at the Midsummer Festival, the voices that suggested to reform gradually gained the upper hand. After all, everyone knew that Rosen was a top-class Swordsmaster and Lize wasn't even at the Elite stage yet, but she could still defend against his series of ferocious attacks. Furthermore, the 'Treat foes as friends' tactic which Lize displayed in battle widened the eyes of many important characters of the Church. According to them, there would naturally be no issues if all Clerics were able to do the same as Lize.
Although the Church tried to experiment with similar styles and techniques after the Midsummer Festival, for a Cleric battle style like 'Treating foes as friends' which was developed after experimentation by thousands of gamers, the Church was not able to master it.
And because of this, the Church decided to send their people to Starlight with the intentions of learning this technique. After all, whether it was the tactical aspect or the effects on battle, the young man in Starlight would understand it the clearest.
"Due to this, the Church sent me here in hopes of obtaining the knowledge and tactics... If the Church could possess such strength, I think it would be beneficial for everyone."
Rhode fell into silence for a few moments after hearing Lilia's request.
He didn't have many regards on this matter. Instead, Rhode couldn't ask for more, since the Church had personally approached him. After all, the Dark Dragon would invade them in the near future and if he could have a batch of well-trained Clerics, those pathetic Undead Creatures would definitely lose miserably. Of course, Rhode couldn't gather so many Clerics solely on his abilities, but things would be different with the involvement of the Church... After all, all the Clerics in this entire continent came from the Church.
"And of course, we do understand that this would be difficult for you." Lilia stood up as she placed her hand firmly on her chest and said solemnly. "Before we arrived here, the Church decided that if you are willing to teach us the tactics and skills, we will agree to all your conditions as long as they are within our means."
Rhode twitched his brows as this transaction was definitely doable. Since the Church had sent the benefits over to him themselves... how could he reject them?
Rhode stretched his arm and knocked on the table. Just as he was able to speak, suddenly a burst of oppressive rumbles interrupted his words.
What's going on?
Rhode couldn't help but frown, and after a few moments, a mercenary was seen gasping for air as he ran towards Rhode.
"S-Sir, someone's here to cause trouble!"