The Reformist Party had made their decision. However, no one knew if they were frightened by the sudden emergence of 60,000 troops sent by Lydia, or they finally realized that they were heading down a dead end. They gathered the remaining troops of the Southern Legion and headed into Callenbach to defend against Lydia's attack and also 'protect' Callenbach City from being snatched away.
Of course, this decision was seen as a courageous one. However, to Rhode, the Reformist Party was like a group of crazy gambling addicts who had lost everything on the gambling table and were desperately trying to make themselves bankrupt. Although there Southern Legion had gathered about 40,000 troops, the outcome was still unknown if they managed to reach Callenbach to resist against the King's Party's 60,000 troops. However, among the 40,000 troops, there were 5,000 civilians apart from the military soldiers.
The Southern Legion's strength had always been the weakest among all the legions of the Munn Kingdom. They were located in the South that was comparatively peaceful where there weren't other influences or threats apart from the Barbarians, unlike the North and East. For the Eastern Plain, their borders were connected to the Country of Darkness so the residents had been battling against the Undead Spirits for generations. Of course, such conflicts were settled privately and had never risen to the diplomatic levels. However, the intensity of the conflicts didn't weaken. Therefore, the battle strength in the Eastern Plain had always been one of the best within the Munn Kingdom.
It was also because the Eastern Plain had been putting themselves at risk for the safety of the Munn Kingdom, the King's Party had provided them extra care, privileges, and even allowed them to shut themselves out from the outside world. Even when it came to matters like mobilizing troops, the King's Party would still communicate with them beforehand. It was due to this reason that although the Eastern Plain always remained secretive within the Munn Kingdom, they had a strong influence where even the internal King's Party or the Reformist Party wouldn't dare to stir trouble with them.
As for the Northern Legion with borders by the Country of Darkness and the Country of Light, they had the most military troops stationed for defense. Therefore, apart from the Eastern Plains which had always been secretly in conflict with the Country of Darkness, the Northern Legion's strength could be termed as the worthy number one in the Munn Kingdom.
On the contrary, the South had only needed to deal with the Barbarians and some Undead Creatures that occasionally crossed the border. Furthermore, due to the mountain range that had cut them off, the Southern Legion had the least amount of troops with less than 80,000. Besides, the Southern Legion's strong suit was in the navy and not the ground forces. However, their battleships were worthless on land no matter how powerful they were.
In the ambush of the Paphield defensive line, the Reformist Party didn't yield their expected results. If it weren't for the plan that Baker proposed afterward which led to their success, perhaps they would've retreated after considering their failures. But now, since they had conquered Callenbach, the Reformist Party didn't need to spit out the meat that was already in their mouths. Facing the pressure of Lydia's army, all they could do was to grit their teeth and fight with all their pathetic lives.
The 40,000 troops was almost all the manpower which the Southern Legion could mobilize. Among them were troops who were hostile and objected the Reformist Party. However, the Southern Parliament had no time to be concerned about their thoughts at this critical juncture. So what if they disapproved of our doings? Their families are living in the city, so even if they disobey my orders, will they be able to abandon their families?
But the Southern Parliament also knew that these soldiers were disobedient and therefore, they forcefully gathered 5,000 civilians into their arsenal. This decision had led the already beaten Southern civilians to more misery. Some of them had even reflected if supporting the Reformist Party was the right choice. After all, the Reformist Party had assured them that they would provide a better life and more freedom when they declared their independence. But now, the commodity prices increased, social order was in disarray, and they had even forced civilians into joining the military. Everything was too far off from what they had promised. Even the 'despotic rule' of the King's Party had never forced civilians into the military!
Besides, the Reformist Party had snatched up all the forces by the Southern wilderness border and the Barbarians had invaded the towns and villages around the border, causing grave damages and even deaths. However, the Reformist Party had no response to it because all they were doing now was to 'tear down the western wall and patch up the eastern wall'. Besides, the deaths of those lives in the border villages meant nothing to the Reformist Party. The Barbarians wouldn't dare to head straight into the bigger towns and cities, so the Reformist Party simply waited for the Country of Light's Parliament's reinforcements to chase them away afterward.
Rhode knew that ever since the Reformist Party decided on becoming independent, their fates were locked in. Perhaps in about two months, Rhode could take a stroll in Golden City and admire their corpses swaying in the wind in the forest.
But this had nothing to do with Rhode anymore.
After eliminating the Ice Devil, Rhode led the mercenaries back to their Fortress because he had something more important to resolve.
Lize loved to overthink. But this time, she was right. The growth of Starlight was too fast. In just a few months, Starlight had leaped from a mercenary group to a Guild and they had even participated in the Paphield defensive line. Moreover, there were also rumors spreading that Starlight had the reputation as the Munn Kingdom's number one Guild. Not only did this felt like a dream for Lize, but Rhode also felt rather worried.
The Guild is growing too quickly.
Fortunately, there were Rhode, Marlene, Canary, and Bubble holding down the fort and the mercenaries weren't overly proud of themselves. If not, the followers would lose their direction if their leaders were too proud. Currently, Starlight was rising and he thought of focusing on rebuilding their foundation to avoid a top-heavy structure and a state of unbalance in his Guild.
Rhode had been truly busy during this period. After leading the mercenaries to finish the Southerners in the Paphield defensive line, he immediately laid hands on the Ice Devil in Cranmore without returning to the Fortress. But at the same time, the pace in the Land of Atonement didn't stop. Although several matters within the Guild had been put on hold after Marlene's departure, the usual operations were no problem with Canary around. Canary would link up with Rhode whenever she faced important questions and the situation in Starlight was great.
With the addition of the Silver Libra Trade Association, the Keller Family, and the commercial flow, there were more visitors to the Land of Atonement-mainly civilians. Strictly speaking, the Land of Atonement was a land with an abundance of natural resources. The natural resources weren't exploited previously because there wasn't a powerful force like Starlight who could take control of the entire place. And now, Starlight had developed strongly and the Land of Atonement wasn't as dangerous as before. The Bandits living in the mountains and forests had been wiped out cleanly, so more visitors arrived in search for opportunities and wealth.
Of course, the visitors weren't only civilians. There were also mercenaries.
Lize couldn't understand why there were so many people who thought that Rhode's Starlight would become the number one Guild in the Munn Kingdom. This was only because she didn't give too many thoughts about it and consider the thoughts of most mercenaries. The mercenaries had chosen this occupation because money and honor were most valuable to them. As the saying goes, 'When the food is warm, the heart is lustful'. Once the mercenaries got used to these adventurous lives and obtained powerful strength, they wouldn't be easily satisfied like the prostitutes on the streets following the man who paid the most money for her services. Their desires were divided into two types. One type would be to build a new mercenary group independently and develop his own strength. The other desire was to rely on their own strength and skills to seek shelter from the nobles as private soldiers. If they were lucky, they might even become a noble's trusted aide and they could live a much more comfortable life.
It was due to this reason that Starlight had become in high demand for many mercenaries.
This was especially so after Rhode was conferred the Baron title by Lydia personally. Many of the mercenaries were envious because they knew that as a noble and a Guild Leader, Rhode would surely choose from his mercenaries to build up an army of private soldiers. If they could join Starlight earlier and perform outstandingly, perhaps they might get a chance to become his henchman, which was an extremely attractive offer.
Besides, unlike the senior nobles, Rhode was young, powerful, and had a strong backing. Everyone knew that the heir of the Senia Family had become the subordinate of Rhode in Starlight. The Senia Family was widely known in the entire Munn Kingdom and Marlene Senia was the number one magic genius in the Munn Kingdom. There were no doubts about Rhode's future since a character of such grandeur identity was willing to become his subordinate. Moreover, rumors were spreading that Rhode was a being in the Legendary Stage and there were also two more people in the Legendary Stage in his Guild. There were also rumors that the Country of Light's Parliament's Mist Sword Saint had been crippled when he stirred trouble with them.
A powerful noble who had strong backing and close ties to the noble families was sure to have a bright future. If the mercenaries were to follow and serve him, they might even have a chance to become a noble's private soldier, henchman, and trusted aide. This would be so much better than struggling in the wild for decades before finding a noble to take them in!
Rhode's Starlight had given the mercenaries a hopeful path and they wished to join him in achieving success.
However, things weren't that simple.
Shauna and Canary had gotten into some conflicts over it. As a past mercenary group leader, Shauna was elated to see that many mercenaries yearning to join their Guild and she even hoped that everyone could be accepted. However, not only did Canary deny her suggestion, but she also raised the bar for those applying into Starlight. According to the in-game terms, those mercenaries with levels lower than 25 could forget about joining Starlight. Fortunately, with the existence of the Sphere of Mystery, Canary and Mini Bubble Gum could create a suitable virtual dungeon to test the mercenaries. The failures were naturally asked to leave while those who succeeded but were covered in filthy stains were subjected to considerations. Only those who passed the test with flying colors had the rights to join the Guild.
Such a test wasn't worth mentioning if they were players. However, it was critical for the natives. According to Canary and Mini Bubble Gum's strict test level, 56 out of 500 mercenaries had passed, which was a rather decent result. Due to this reason, although there were a lot of mercenaries attempting to join the Guild, only a small number of them had successfully joined. There were less than 70 who managed to join up until now.
Shauna felt that Canary's standards were too strict. Although she understood the reasons behind them, Shauna thought that there must also be a certain number of 'lower-level personnel' within a Guild. If they didn't recruit some ordinary mercenaries, there would be no competitiveness. Of course. Shauna didn't know that Canary and Bubble were actually recruiting the 'lower-level personnel'. As for those that were eliminated, they weren't even worthy of stepping into their ranks.
This was only one of the conflicts in the Guild Fortress when Rhode wasn't around. "Hu... I'm finally back."
After regaining his senses from the dizziness of the teleportation, Rhode heaved a long sigh of relief as he gazed at the familiar dome on the high ceiling. A comfortable and heartwarming emotion emerged in his heart. After so many days of running about, Rhode was exhausted. Now that he had returned home, he could finally let loose. At this moment, a petite figure had extended its arms and scuttled towards him. "Rhode...!"
Christie dove into Rhode's embrace and hugged him tightly. The little girl lifted her head and her purple eyes were glinting with concerns and reluctance. Perhaps due to the short sprint, Christie's delicate body was trembling. Her breathing hastened and beads of sweat formed on her forehead. "... You're finally back... Rhode..."
"I'm back, Christie," Rhode greeted with a gentle smile and stroked her long hair lightly. Christie narrowed her eyes like a docile kitten, but, shortly after, she opened her eyes and tugged Rhode's clothes excitedly. "... Good news... Lapis'... Stone Construct... is completed..."
"Oh?" Rhode's eyes flashed with curiosity. He stood to his feet and patted her head. "Bring me there."
"Yes... Okay..." Christie nodded with a smile.
However, she didn't turn around immediately. Instead, she gazed at the floating azure water ball beside Rhode. Snow laid flat on her tummy and she widened her eyes to look at the little girl before her in astonishment. "... Rhode... Who is she...?" Christie asked curiously.
Rhode followed Christie to the alchemy workshop at the back of the Fortress. There was a loud clanging of tools and the messy alchemy workshop in the small courtyard that Marlene had avoided became much cleaner and neater with various alchemy materials laid orderly in a row on the table. Of course, it wasn't because Lapis suddenly knew how to tidy up the mess before her... Rhode had witnessed the Ocean Elves rushing about and tidying the alchemy workshop.
Rhode turned his attention to the enormous statue.
It was an entirely white, three meter tall Griffin Stone Construct, half-kneeling on the stone base and its eyes embedded with blue crystals emanated faint radiance. It looked up to the sky and displayed an imposing manner with its pure white wings folding gradually. The carved sacred words on its stone base made it look dignified while its swinging large tail appeared as though it was about to leap off from its base and spread its wings wide apart. Snow hid behind Rhode after spotting the frightening statue. After she was sure that it couldn't move, she carefully peeped her head out. But even so, she covered her eyes with her webbed hands and peeked.
"Not bad," Rhode nodded in satisfaction at the Stone Construct.
Before Rhode left the Fortress, he had told Lapis about his requirements for the Stone Construct. After all, the main purpose of the Stone Constructs was to handle the air troops of the Country of Darkness: the Gargoyles and Bone Falcons. This was why Rhode requested for the Stone Construct to appear as holy and powerful as possible. And now, it seemed that Lapis had fulfilled his request accurately. The Holy Griffins were a legendary treasure of the Light Dragon's mythology. Legend had it that the Holy Griffins had been by the Light Dragon's side to drive off the darkness. Afterward, due to the Light Dragon's idiotic behaviors which led to a drastic decrease in its strength, these legendary creatures had gone missing and no one knew if they had gone extinct or simply hidden. But now, since Rhode couldn't create the authentic Holy Griffins, their bootleg version would be good enough to scare off the Undead Creatures. But...
Rhode felt rather uncomfortable knowing that the Soul Cores used to activate these 'Holy Griffins' were the same attributes as the Undead Spirits. What exactly is going on...
Rhode lowered his head to Christie. "Did you design this?"
"Yes," Christie stuck out her chest proudly and nodded with might. "I've done a lot... of research... Asked the Cleric Big Sisters... and designed this..." Christie gazed at Rhode in uncertainty. "... Does Rhode... like it...?"
"Of course. I like it a lot, Christie," Rhode revealed a genuine smile. He could see that Christie had changed. Her life had become much more fruitful and she was no longer the young girl who was shunned by others. She had the ability to do what she really wanted to do. Although she was still physically weak, Rhode believed that if she continued to maintain such high spirits and confidence to lead a blissful life... It would be enough.
"Where's Lapis?" said Rhode.
"Sister Lapis... Is still busy..." Christie pondered for a moment before answering. Then, she picked up a light iron rod by the wall and tapped on the door lightly. Shortly after, Lapis' frantic voice sounded from inside. "Eh? Is it Christie? Is anything the matter? Ah, w-w-wait... Wait a moment! Just a moment! A moment!"
Boom! Rhode looked up at the billow of smoke soaring into the sky before turning his gaze to the embarrassed Lapis before him. He once again experienced what it meant that the leopard can't change its spots. It was the exact same scene when he arrived here with Marlene back then. The only difference was that the Ocean Elves had cleaned up her mess for her. "Ah, Sir Rhode. When did you come back... No wonder Christie rushed out so hurriedly... Sorry to let you see me in this..."
"It's okay, Lapis. I'm not here to poke fun at you," Rhode gestured and interrupted her awkward explanation. He let out a cough and looked at the Stone Construct. "I've heard from Christie that the Stone Construct has been fully completed?"
"Yes, Sir Rhode," said Lapis.
Speaking of her profession, Lapis wiped off her awkward and embarrassed expression. She lifted her head and went through the details with Rhode. "I've worked according to your request to use the Soul Cores to activate the Stone Construct and they passed the testing phase. If they are used for normal battles, they can last for about two days. If you wish to use them for all-out battles, they can last for about a day as the energy of the Soul Core would be depleted. It will take 10 days to recharge before getting back into action."
10 days is kind of long.
Rhode knitted his brows. He knew that the air troops of the Undead Army were a troublesome bunch. If his Holy Griffins were only capable of this standard, he wouldn't have an easy time dealing with them. However, Rhode knew that there were no other choices. Although the Undead Army's Gargoyles were also alchemic creatures, the source of their strength came from forcefully stripping souls from living creatures and fusing them into the lifeless Gargoyles. However, it wasn't possible for Lapis to carry out such cruel methods and Rhode couldn't take it too far under Lydia's watchful eyes.
"How many have you built in total?" asked Rhode.
"Currently, only one, Sir," Lapis revealed a helpless expression. "Although we were able to design the Stone Construct quickly thanks to Christie, I spent a lot of time experimenting with the Soul Cores and testing its power consumption. I only managed to resolve all the problems until a few days back..."
"I understand," replied Rhode.
Lapis appeared somewhat uncertain and apologetic, but Rhode wasn't as tense as her. As a person who had crossed over from earth, Rhode knew that everything was the toughest in their creation stages. However, once the technical problems were resolved and they received a set of the production process and sufficient materials, it wouldn't be a problem for mass production.
"According to this speed, how long do you need to create all the Stone Construct?"
"Hmm..." Lapis pondered for a while. "One every five days. Sorry, Sir Rhode, although the Ocean Elves are helpful in many aspects, this is the only thing that..."
"This isn't your fault, Lapis. You should also take care of yourself. Take it slow." Rhode knew what Lapis was about to say. However, Rhode couldn't resolve this problem by himself. No matter what, he didn't have the channel to search for a group of alchemy apprentice to assist Lapis. Although sculpting could be completed by artisans, the structure of the alchemy spell and the core embedding could only be done by Lapis. Moreover, she was also responsible for concocting the potions for the Guild... Rhode honestly believed that he was like a Southern Slave Owner who treated an Alchemist Master like Lapis as a slave...
But now, there wasn't any solution to this problem.
Rhode shook his head and threw this thought to the back of his head. Then, he took two steps back and gazed at the Stone Construct. "Alright, Lapis, let me see its powers."
"Yes, Sir," Lapis nodded and retreated swiftly. Then, she retrieved a beautiful, polished gem from her pocket and held it in her tiny hand. She shut her eyes and a magical radiance burst out from her hand.
"...!" The statue emanated a white flowing brilliance and the two blue gems shimmered glaringly. It let out a sharp cry and pounced toward Rhode in a white bolt of lightning!