"Phew..." Marlene returned to her usual calmness as she approached the end of the corridor and gazed out of the window to see the streets that were as lively as always.
She shook her head while descending the stairs and was greeted by an aloof voice. "Good afternoon, Madam Marlene."
"Ah... Good afternoon..." Marlene turned around but as soon as she met the owner of the voice, she gaped blankly.
Yes, it was Agatha. However, she seemed a little strange. The young lady was holding onto a rag and it seemed that she had been wiping the windows along the corridor. Moreover, the three tentacles at the Ocean Elf's lower body were moving back and forth, sweeping the filthy dust on the floor while the slim tentacles on her hair were sorting out the paintings hung on the wall.
"Is there anything that I can help you with?" Agatha turned around to Marlene's gaze gracefully, at the same time passing the rag to another tentacle extending from below her skirt. Then, she folded her arms before her and bowed to Marlene in a flawless lady-like posture-excluding the strange features around her body, that was.
"Ah, no, nothing. I was just strolling around..." Marlene gestured hurriedly.
Undeniably, an 'admirable' thought came to Marlene's mind after she met Agatha in this form. Humans usually had the desire to have 'three heads and six arms' as the saying goes and this Ocean Elf was the materialization of their desires. If she could be like Agatha, she could finish all her complicated tasks in half a day's time.
Marlene glanced over to the corridor behind Agatha curiously and she was pleasantly surprised.
The dimly lit and dusty corridor that was neglected due to the lack of manpower had become sparkling clean while there wasn't the slightest dirt present on every window. Furthermore, the floor beneath her feet was so clean that it was almost as reflective as a long stretch of mirror. In one night, the entire corridor had transformed entirely. Moreover, Marlene noticed that fresh branches and sea-green flowers were arranged on the shelves as decorations, which breathed much needed fresh air into this then-lifeless corridor.
Previously, Marlene was dubious of the Ocean Elves' abilities, but she trusted them entirely after seeing this. Even the maids in Royal Highness Lydia's palace wouldn't be this meticulous. "Thanks for your hard work, Miss Agatha."
"This is the task Master has entrusted me with. This isn't any hard work, Madam Marlene." This Ocean Elf spoke with an ice-cold, apathetic attitude which reminded Marlene of Rhode. Did this servant take up the characteristics of her summoner?
"By the way, Madam Marlene. You haven't eaten breakfast, right? I've arranged for breakfast to be served for you and..." Agatha paused meaningfully. Meanwhile, Marlene noticed that Agatha's full head of slender tentacles seemed to have throbbed once as she spoke. "I've prepared warm water for your bath. You can clean yourself and relax your mind. If you don't mind..."
"... Ah..." Marlene blushed and nodded hurriedly, unsure if she did that to conceal her fluster or to interrupt the Ocean Elf. "I'll make my way there now. Thanks for your concern, Miss Agatha."
"You're welcome; it's just my duty." With a plain and monotonous tone, the robot-like Ocean Elf was as though an actress without any slightest experience who had just recited her script. She bowed respectfully before turning around to continue with her chores. Surprisingly, her clear-cut cold attitude didn't insult or infuriate Marlene at all. Instead, there was a strange loftiness to it... It seemed that this Ocean Elf was really something else.
Marlene gazed out of the window at this thought... Come to think of it, Miss Canary and the mercenaries should be back soon.
"-!" The pitch-black figure split into two and wailed painfully before exploding in a glaring radiance. As the figure collapsed to the ground as filthy dust, Joey sat on the ground miserably.
"That's the last." The young newbie Thief pulled himself up frantically to deal with the next Shadow Creature. However, he sat right back down to the ground after hearing the heavenly voice.
"Phew... I thought I was dead."
"Yea, I know right..."
The mercenaries beside him heaved a sigh of relief and most of them landed on their rear without a care for the filth and blood that splashed all over them. This training session was extremely dangerous for them and they didn't expect the creatures at this distorted point to be this powerful. Due to this, Joey and his team of mercenaries felt tremendous pressure when they fought against the creatures.
Of course, although the creatures were much stronger than they expected, the battles weren't too life-threatening as it was still within an acceptable difficulty. However, this would delay their scheduled timing greatly.
After the first few training battles to cultivate their confidence and individual skills, Canary and Mini Bubble Gum stopped giving them time limits to fulfill their tasks. Instead, they sent the mercenaries to assess the terrain, strengths, and weaknesses of the distorted points and the creatures. Once done, the mercenaries would need to come up with a perfect strategy and a time limit of their own and as long as they could complete the task within the time limit, there wouldn't be any punishments.
Although this naturally seemed to be the better choice, the punishment that the mercenaries would receive for exceeding the time limit was much more petrifying. Both Canary or Mini Bubble Gum possessed the strength of the Legendary Stage and it was never too difficult for them to leave any permanent mental scars to these pitiful mercenaries.
After the battle began, the mercenaries were baffled to realize that they had miscalculated their enemies' strength. They didn't wish to get into the painful punishment that was worse than falling into hell due to their unlucky negligence. However, even so, these mercenaries had learned to maintain their calmness and adjust their pace and mentality swiftly after a series of strict training. Under Joey's lead, the mercenaries fought against the Shadow Creatures steadily.
However, as the time ticked closer and closer to its limit, their anxiousness increased drastically, especially after wasting so much time on the last Shadow Creature that was difficult to deal with. If it weren't for Joey's idea to get some mercenaries to attract its attention while he dealt a fatal blow to it from the back, perhaps these mercenaries would have to face the fears of the painful punishment even before they could sense the happiness of victory.
"Well done," Canary said with her gentle smile as she walked out of the bushes. The mercenaries waved their hands to greet her, not forgetting to flirt with this beautiful, adorable, and powerful young Mage.
"Yea, Madam Canary, it was so close... If Captain Joey was a tad slower, I wouldn't dare to think what will be coming for us next."
"That's right, that's right. Phew... It's finally over... I have never felt this nervous for a long time." These mercenaries knew that although Canary and Mini Bubble Gum's rules were somewhat strict, they were practical for actual battles.
Not only did their training sessions strengthen the mercenaries' teamwork and battle capabilities, they had also learned to study the battlefield diligently. Moreover, they learned to estimate their enemies' strength accurately and make adjustments on the spot to engage in battles. Furthermore, the mercenaries were baffled that even though Canary and Mini Bubble Gum were masters in casting spells, they understood the other classes inside-out, to which many of them, including Joey, heeded their advice. Their advice was simple and easy to understand even for those with slower learning capabilities. As a matter of fact, these mercenaries were flabbergasted that their strength had grown incredibly fast ever since joining Starlight. Without a doubt, a part of the credit must be given to the Sphere of Mystery. However, most of the improvements were thanks to Canary and Mini Bubble Gum's customized training sessions and reminders. Under their guidance and according to the NPC levels in the game, these mercenaries had reached over level 35 and were working towards the Master Stage at level 40.
However, even though their levels were higher than Rhode's, it was impossible for them to defeat him even if they ganged up. This was the difference between players and aborigines. No matter how these aborigines trained, only a part of them could be guaranteed to reach the Master Stage. At this moment, Rhode had possessed two top swordsmanships of the Master Stage, even though in terms of levels, he was much lower than his men.
Due to this reason, the mercenaries had adulated Canary and Mini Bubble Gum after spending so much time together. These two young ladies were top class masters to the mercenaries and they were astonished that these two powerful beings actually showed so much respect for Rhode despite their difference in levels. In turn, the mercenaries were more respectful and fearful towards Rhode.
Without a doubt, the mercenaries fancied Canary more between the two. Even though Mini Bubble Gum was reliable in terms of healing as a Cleric, in terms of character, the mercenaries preferred the ever-smiling Canary who was much more likable than Mini Bubble Gum who would frequently hurl sarcasm at them. Although after spending a long time together, the mercenaries had also realized that Mini Bubble Gum was only hard on the outside but had a soft heart, it was still hard for them to lift their heads proudly after getting lectured by a little girl.
This was especially true when Mini Bubble Gum's statements were reasonable which embarrassed the mercenaries even further.
"How was it, Madam Canary? We have passed, right?" As the team captain, Joey sprung up from the ground and scuttled to Canary energetically unlike the restless mercenaries. In response to Joey's smile, Canary rubbed her chin and pondered for a while.
"Hmm... Strictly speaking, all of you were just lucky to barely clear this task. If the Shadow Creature held on a little stronger, perhaps you wouldn't have made the cut. Moreover, this wasn't the result of your specially designed attack and was basically just you taking a risk. Although you were lucky to win the gamble this time, you can't always rely on luck to win battles."
"I... That..." Joey widened his mouth and mumbled gibberish while the other mercenaries anticipated Canary's decision with pale expressions. They were clear of Canary's style and strictly speaking, they were indeed lucky to be 'saved'. Will she really...
"I have initially decided to send you guys into the pond filled with frogs and poisonous snakes to soak and calm your heads. After all, you can't rely on luck in battles. But..." Canary winked cheekily and smiled at the mercenaries with gaping mouths. "There's nothing wrong with relying on luck sometimes. I'll let you guys pass this time," Canary said with a merciful tone.
The mercenaries heaved a long sigh of relief and cheered with punching fists in the air. Canary chuckled in response and turned her gaze into the woods pensively. However, she turned back without mentioning anything.
After a period of precious rest, the mercenaries began to clean up the battlefield. Although the Shadow Creatures were just creatures made from distorted magical powers and would only leave a pile of magical dust without any weapons or equipment after dying, the mercenaries continued to pack the magical dust into their sacks carefully. This magical dust was an excellent experimental material for Lapis.
At this moment, a mercenary on sentry duty on the perimeter rushed in frantically. He ran towards Canary with a pale expression and bowed before reporting. "R-Reporting, Madam Canary. We found a person in the northeast direction... He is injured gravely and needs instant assistance!"
"A person?" Canary twitched her brows. "Where? Bring us there."
The mercenary turned around instantly while Canary and two other Clerics followed closely. At the same time, Canary informed Joey to wait for their return after cleaning up the battlefield.
"How did you discover him?" asked Canary.
"When Captain Joey and the others were about to end their battle, my comrade and I patrolled the area as per your instructions and found that injured man surrounded by a pack of jackals... To be honest, he may not make it alive..." the mercenary explained.
"Are you able to identify where he came from?" inquired Canary.
"He... shouldn't be from the Country of Darkness. From his appearance, he seems to be a mercenary," the mercenary pointed out.
Everyone passed through the woods and arrived at the hillside on the other side. This area was near the edge of the Country of Darkness and the clear division of the black and white skies was clearly visible as soon as they looked up. At this moment, the other mercenary guarding the injured man stood on his feet and waved towards Canary's group hurriedly.
From the man's injuries, it seemed that he was involved in an intense battle and exhausted the last of his strength to escape to this place. Furthermore, there were some dark and semi-rotten wounds on his body. He lay helplessly on the grass patch while waiting for the arrival of the Grim Reaper to take his life.
He seemed to be a mercenary based on his appearance, however Canary was sure that he definitely didn't belong to Starlight.
So, who exactly is he?