As the young ladies were whispering about Agatha's origin, Rhode confirmed with the young lady herself on the main issues. As Marlene had predicted, Agatha was an Ocean Elf of the Silver Ocean in the Seven Fantasy Boundaries. She came to this world and contracted with Rhode as his servant to manage the entire Fortress.
Logistically speaking, the Ocean Elves were a very beneficial addition. They had close relations with the water element and could use water elemental spells to a certain extent. An ordinary Ocean Elf possessed a level 10 Mage player's strength. Although they weren't formidable in battle, they were more than enough for Rhode. Rhode found out from Agatha that the Ocean Elves were experts in cleaning and reorganizing. Their outstanding water affinity allowed them to excel in the cleaning and dredging of the entire Fortress. At the same time, she was also able to take up the role of the patrol guards to patrol uninhabited areas. Without a doubt, the Ocean Elves could deal with robbers and bandits; however, handling the mercenaries were out of their capabilities.
However, Rhode had no intention of sending any Ocean Elves to be a part of the patrol team.
According to Agatha, the Fortress' low level only allowed Rhode to summon up to 50 Ocean Elves, including herself. However, she continued to reassure Rhode with her rigorous, confident and blank expression that these 50 Ocean Elves would be enough to complete the daily chores in the Fortress.
As the saying goes, seeing is believing.
Rhode summoned the other 49 Ocean Elves and although there were many of them, the spacious hall was enough to accommodate all of them. Most of them appeared to be quiet, well-behaved, and had beautiful features, unlike Agatha who was expressionless, like an ice sculpture. Even so, the presence of the 50 Ocean Elves gathered in the hall was rather strong, especially with the chill from their bodies giving Marlene and the others the illusion as though they were on the summit of a northern mountain.
"Lize," Rhode turned around after completing his negotiations with Agatha and gestured to Lize.
"Yes, Mr. Rhode?" Lize scuttled towards Rhode and questioned curiously.
"Bring Agatha and her companions for a tour around the Fortress and assign them their work respectively. By the way, don't forget to inform Kavos and Marfa because, after all, these Ocean Elves have unique identities, so we don't want to startle them. Also, notify the mercenaries in advance so they won't treat them as monsters and attack them," instructed Rhode.
"Understood, Mr. Rhode. I'll get going now." Lize nodded in acknowledgment before displaying a somewhat rigid smile to Agatha. "S-So then... Please come with me, everyone."
"Yes. Sorry for the trouble, Madam Lize," Agatha responded monotonously, to which Lize responded with a bitter smile.
"Anne wants to go too!" Although Anne had just returned to the Fortress, it seemed to be more interesting for her to join in with the newcomers. Anne lifted her hand excitedly and hopped as she left with Lize, Agatha, and the Ocean Elves. On the other hand, Gillian chuckled as she cupped her palm over her mouth.
"Master, I shall go and take a look too. I'm curious to see how those silly humans react when they meet the Ocean Elves..." Gillian swayed her huge, fluffy tail and strolled towards the group. From a certain perspective, Gillian and Anne were rather similar in this aspect.
"..." Rhode sighed hopelessly and turned towards to Marlene. "By the way, how is Lapis's progress?"
Marlene pondered before lifting her head with a smile. "Miss Lapis hasn't stepped out of the workshop for a while. But I heard she is progressing well and is nearing completion soon."
"Oh, really?" Rhode twitched his brows. "Let's check it out."
Lapis was currently in the desolated and unfrequented alchemy section in the back of the Fortress. Rhode held onto Christie's hand and arrived at the door of the alchemy workshop with Marlene. The scene left Rhode astonished: what should have been a flat, orderly workshop had been tainted with traces of smoke and flames. Furthermore, based on the marks on the wall, there seemed to be an explosion before. The entire workshop was as though bombarded by a multiple bomber aircraft... and was almost blasted back to the Stone Age. Oh lord, what on earth was Lapis doing? A nuclear test?
"Argh... It's like this," Rhode turned around and gazed at Marlene's awkward expression as she spoke. "Although Miss Lapis was able to finish her job smoothly, there was... a slight problem... from the start. But fortunately, with Miss Canary and Miss Bubble, there wasn't too much damage."
Although Marlene's tone was careful and deferential, Rhode understood the nuance in her words.
Marlene extended her arm to stop Rhode and Christie from entering the workshop. Then, she picked up an iron strip placed beside the door and knocked with it. "Miss Lapis, are you free now? Mr. Rhode is back!"
Marlene's voice echoed in the workshop, but there wasn't an immediate response. As Rhode tried to peek into the workshop curiously, he felt a slight tug on his sleeve. He lowered his head to see Christie trying her best to tiptoe. "... Last time... Sister Marlene entered... without knocking... and was almost... blasted by Miss Lapis..."
Rhode turned his gaze towards the iron strip in Marlene's hands. It seems that this thing was placed here intentionally.
"Ah... Miss Marlene, I'll be right there. Give me a few seconds!"
Lapis responded in a panicky voice. Upon hearing her answer, Marlene took two steps back innately with an anxious expression while Christie also backed off, at the same time pulling Rhode's hand hurriedly.
As Rhode was trying to figure out their inexplicable actions, Lapis's voice sounded once again. "Ah, give me a while more, Miss Marlene. I'm almost done, almost done... Woaaah, almost... No no no, wait, wait, w-..."
Boom! Before Lapis completed her sentence, a loud explosion sounded and billows of smoke surged out of the workshop door. Rhode was startled while Marlene and Christie seemed to be used to this. They exchanged glances with one another before turning their gazes to the door. Soon, the workshop door opened and Lapis emerged. "Cough cough... Ah, Sir Rhode, you're back... Sorry to let you see me in this manner... Cough."
Lapis was covered in smoke stains from head to toe. The wide hood and baggy cloak wrapped the young lady's slim and frail body while her fair, delicate face had been filled with speckles of filthy dust. In the past, Rhode thought that her hood was to conceal her identity from being exposed, at the same time, also serving as a sign of her reserved personality. But now, it seemed that there was a more practical meaning to it. At least she wouldn't need to worry that her hair would be burned by all these experiments...
"What were you doing?" Rhode asked curiously as he scanned Lapis' miserable appearance.
Lapis let out an awkward cough and lowered her head in embarrassment. "This... is nothing much, Sir Rhode. I was just following your instructions to modify the potion recipes. After all, there are many ingredients that we lack... But this is really too difficult..."
Rhode secretly let out a long sigh. As Starlight had just been established, they didn't have too much money to purchase expensive Magic Herbs. Meanwhile, the Magic Herbs in the wild around the Fortress didn't make the cut for high-level potions. Therefore, Rhode designated Lapis a task to test if she could modify these high-level potion recipes into more 'common' ones. But it seemed that this experiment didn't proceed smoothly. "Be careful; don't hurt yourself. You must take care of your health too."
"Ah... Yes... Sir Rhode," Lapis felt her heart skip a beat and she lowered her head hastily to conceal the blush on her face. Then, she spoke as though to cover up for her embarrassing actions. "B-B-By the way, Sir Rhode, are you here to see the badge? I've completed them. Please wait for a moment."
After a succession of clumsy clatters, the young lady ran back with a square badge that matched Rhode's guild flag. Through the carved silver gap, an embedded magical crystal that resembled a meter dial could be vaguely seen.
"I have made it according to Sir Rhode's instruction and everything has met your requirements." Lapis pinned the badge to her chest and withdrew a dagger from her waist. She used her other hand to rotate the pointer on the badge to one its four sides. In a blink of an eye, a red radiance enveloped Lapis entirely and her dagger blade began to blaze with flames.
"Elemental Badge: the holder will receive the corresponding buff in the attack, defense, and elemental attributes by turning the pointer on this badge. This will activate the badge's effect using the spiritual energy within the holder's body. The complicated mutual relationships of the Four Main Elements must be respected, so the effects aren't that powerful... This current badge contains about 30% of the total attack and defense power." Lapis rotated the pointer on the badge once again and the red radiance had been replaced with a layer of green radiance. Meanwhile, the flames on her dagger transformed into a slightly visible wind aura.
"Not bad," Rhode nodded in satisfaction. "So how do we use it?"
"Just as Sir Rhode has mentioned, the holder has to use his or her blood to activate it. After the activation is completed, only the holder can use it."
"Good." Rhode examined the accessory closely after taking it from Lapis. Although this accessory wasn't considered top-notch, it was a somewhat high-grade equipment for the mercenaries. If everything was as per Lapis had mentioned, the second 5 Star Mission wouldn't be too challenging for Rhode anymore.
Rhode kept the badge and patted Lapis's shoulder. "You did well, Lapis. I will give you your reward now."
"Reward?" Lapis's eyes beamed in dazzling anticipation. Then, Rhode withdrew a scroll from the fold in his clothes.
"What's this, Sir Rhode?" Lapis tilted her head to the side and asked curiously.
"This is the Defense Formation of the Construct Guards," answered Rhode.