It wasn't hard to imagine how the residents of the Fortress would react as soon as they spotted the majestic and glorious crystal statue. They wouldn't have imagined how this beautiful statue had emerged on the empty plaza overnight. Such a situation would only happen in their wildest dreams and they were astounded. Word spread that the first few people who saw the statue were scared witless, rushing about to seek assistance from the mercenaries. However, the mercenaries were equally astonished as soon as they spotted the statue. Within 30 minutes, news regarding the statue had spread to every corner of the Fortress. Then, the crowd finally calmed down after Marlene represented the Guild and announced that the statue was built by them. But it was also due to this that the crowd was even more in shock.
No one in the Fortress knew that Rhode took only half a day to build the Fortress back then because, even though it was a proud achievement for Starlight, not everyone believed in such rumors and even the mercenaries felt it was absurd. After all, there was only a small group of mercenaries that followed Rhode to clean up the Land of Atonement and most of them didn't witness how the Fortress was built. This was also nothing surprising as they didn't believe the rumors.
But this time, after witnessing such a miraculous scene, the mercenaries changed their opinions entirely. After living in the Fortress for such a long time, they were sure that there was nothing in the plaza the day before. But now, a 20 meters tall crystal statue carved with elegant patterns at the bottom had merged as one with the heavy marble floor and was erected on the plaza. It looked as though it had been there all these while and no one realized it.
But that was impossible.
Marlene didn't explain much, but almost everyone knew that it was Rhode's doing.
How did he do it?
In just a night and without even hearing any sounds of construction, they unbelievably discovered this statue the second day. Things that appeared in exaggerated myths and legends had just happened to them. They felt amazed and revered Rhode even more.
Rhode had always been a mysterious and solemn presence in the hearts of the mercenaries. However, as he was just a young man. It was inevitable that the mercenaries were rather scornful against him. In fact, such emotions had been around in Starlight and not every mercenary accepted him. Most of them joined the guild because they valued its potential and strength-not because they thought highly of Rhode. Most of them with such mindsets were newcomers. They had strength, potential, and ambitious. However, as far as Rhode was concerned, their respect were merely superficial.
As for Shauna, Joey, and Randolf, who had been following Rhode from the start, they had witnessed him achieving unimaginable things time and time again. Therefore, they were devoted to him from the bottom of their hearts and understood his terrifying points and strength. These 'veterans' were naturally unhappy when they noticed the disrespect of the egotistical newcomers who lacked respect for Rhode. On the other hand, the newcomers felt that the veterans' descriptions of Rhode were over exaggerated. Although they admitted that this young man was indeed powerful, the myths and legends about him were just too unbelievable. Therefore, many of them thought that the veterans were making up stories to frighten them.
Look at the massive size of this Fortress that's almost as big as half a city. Do you think we're fools who would believe that it was built in less than a day?
But now, their thoughts wavered.
Because they couldn't find any reason to explain it. This had happened right before them. They didn't hear anything over the night, but this statue actually emerged before them!
Could it be that what the veterans said were true?
This thought cropped up in their heads and sent a shiver down their spines. Oh, Lord. If this is true, what can he not do? The proud and arrogant mercenaries turned humble instantly. If what the veterans said was the truth, then they couldn't being this naive anymore, since they heard that the young Sir had a bad temper.
Rhode hadn't expected that this Holy Maiden Statue would help him strengthen his reputation and position in the guild. However, he didn't have the time to handle these things now. Although most of the matters were handled by Marlene before they returned, there were many important issues that required Rhode's nod of approval.
The problem regarding the Alchemist Association-after dragging on for half a month, the Alchemist Association had finally obliged to his request and sent the alchemy materials he requested over. Rhode kept his promise and had gotten Lapis to concoct the antidote and also hand over that idiot Thomas who led the team of Alchemists to stir trouble in his Fortress. However, that pitiful guy had gone insane in the dark cell and the precious genius from the Alchemist Association was nowhere to be seen anymore.
Things were looking good for Lapis too. At the start, the Alchemist Apprentices who Marlene had brought back were contemptuous of Lapis because she was younger than them. However, after Lapis displayed her impressive Alchemist Master's knowledge and skills, the Alchemist Apprentices grew humble and worked wholeheartedly for her. As a group of close friends who Marlene had trusted, their moral conduct was rather decent. This was why they got along well with Lapis. With their help, Lapis didn't have as much pressure on her shoulders and she didn't need to handle everything on her own.
Apart from that, Rhode had received another news. The young lady who they had rescued from the monastery had regained consciousness.
The young lady opened her eyes and squinted at the glaring sunlight spilling through the window. She knitted her brows and tremendous pain from her limbs engulfed her entirety as though her blood vessels were pumped with lava. She groaned instinctively.
The tall ceiling came into view. The white bedsheets and curtains fluttered from the cooling breeze blowing through the clear windows.
The young lady looked out of the window at the azure sky. The warm sunlight and crisp, greenish leaves were filled with vitality. At this moment, she recalled everything that had happened. Yes, she was kidnapped and dragged to a terrifying place full of horrifying adults. They locked her up and tried to make her...
The young lady sat up abruptly, but severe pain all over her body forced her back to the bed. At this moment, a gentle voice sounded beside her.
"... I think... you're better off not moving about..."
She turned around and saw a young girl sitting by her bed and gazing at her worriedly. The latter revealed a gentle and glad smile.
"... You're finally awake..."
"Who are you? Where is this place..."
The young lady asked curiously to the petite, slim young girl. The young girl stood up with a smile.
"My name is Christie... This is... Rhode's Fortress... Don't worry, nobody... will hurt you here..."
The young lady felt assured perhaps due to Christie's gentle voice and after she realized that the situation wasn't as bad as she had imagined. She leaned on the bedhead and gazed curiously at everything. Indeed. She realized that the room was unlike the ice-cold, filthy cell from before. Although it wasn't beautifully decorated, it was still warm and cozy enough to calm her frantic mind. Could it be that I'm no longer in the terrifying place? But how did I escape?
As the young lady's mind was in a mess, someone knocked on the door. Then, a young man in noble attire entered.
Christie scuttled into his embrace. The young lady widened her eyes in astonishment at the little girl who darted off and shifted her gaze to the black-haired young man. After all, they looked exactly the same apart from the obvious age difference. Could it be that this young man was her older brother?
"Hi there, Miss."
Rhode caressed Christie's long hair and nodded to the young lady.
"I'm Rhode Alander, the overlord of Grenbell and guild leader of Starlight. May I ask for you name?"
"My... name is Ann."
Although the young lady tensed up to the young man's poker face, she responded quickly.
"H-Hi there, Sir. My name is Ann Clark."
"Hi, Miss Clark."
Rhode pondered for a moment before continuing.
"I know you must have a lot of questions on your mind. But before that, I hope to understand exactly what happened to you. Do you still remember? Can you tell me about it?"
Although Ann was rather hesitant, she nodded eventually. The entire situation started a few days ago. Back then, she was out on the streets shopping with her companions, but bandits targeted her, knocked her out, and brought her back to their filthy nest. At the start, Ann thought that they had kidnapped her in exchange for her father's wealth, but she quickly realized that the truth was otherwise because the bandits brought her out of Kohl City and to a relatively remote mountainous forest. They handed her over to a group of strange, terrifying men clad in armor. What happened afterward left her stunned. Not only did those men murder the bandits who had kidnapped her, but they also brought her to a fearful place in the deep mountains and locked her up in the cell. Ann learned that she was about to be sacrificed to a frightening monster as an offering. Although she had thought of all ways, she wasn't able to break free and escape. She stayed in the ice-cold, damp cell, fearing the passing of everyday in despair. Finally, the door to her cell opened and a nun donned in scarlet robe led a group of terrifying men in and told her that the ritual was starting. Ann struggled with all her might, but was quickly knocked out by someone... She couldn't recall what happened afterward.
Rhode gazed at her in silence, which pressured her tremendously. But she tried her best in explaining her predicament, to which Rhode nodded. Then, Rhode recalled the brief interlude that they had experienced before arriving at the Saint Monastery. Could she be the one that the little rascal who quarreled with Mini Bubble Gum was trying to find?
But they wouldn't have been successful as they were a group of mercenaries less than level 20 challenging a level 60 dungeon. It was no wonder that players often spotted mercenary corpses in that dungeon...
Rhode gave a simple explanation to the situation to Ann. Of course, he didn't tell her the entire truth. He mentioned that he was the overlord of Grenbell and heard about a group of Cultists roaming in the mountains, which led him to leading his men and resolving the problem. During the process, he discovered her on the altar and brought her back thereafter.
"I understand your feelings, Miss Clark. You've just woken up and haven't fully recovered yet. You can rest for a while here and I will get my men to notify your esteemed father. When your body has fully recovered, I will get my men to send you home. Is this arrangement fine?"
"Yes, Sir Overlord."
The burden on Ann's shoulders was gone and she hurriedly revealed a smile. Rhode nodded in satisfaction, but his expression remain unchanged.
"Alright then, please have a rest. I will leave Christie here to accompany you. Let her know if you've any needs. I'll get going now."
Anne looked vacantly at Rhode's back. Although they had only met for a few minutes, Rhode left a deep impression on her. He was an ideal gentleman to a young lady who had just escaped death. He was gentle, urbane, and considerate of females. The only flaw was perhaps his lack of smiles...
However, Rhode wasn't concerned about others' opinion. Winter was approaching and there was something more important for him.
The Winter Ceremony organized by the Mercenary Association.
On the Dragon Soul Continent, winter was the hibernation phase for all living things and the resting days for mercenaries who had been busy all year around. Due to the harsh conditions of winter, accidents often happened, which was why most mercenaries wouldn't take on risky missions that required them to venture into the deep mountains or forests. Instead, they would take a break for one to two months and continue their missions after enduring the cold climate. The Mercenary Association would use this chance to evaluate various regional Guilds and decide their rankings. Unqualified guilds that didn't accomplish the required missions would be demoted back into mercenary groups while outstanding mercenary groups would be promoted to guild status.
Previously, the Burning Blade mercenary group had always been promoted and demoted in the Winter Ceremony and the mercenaries in the Paphield region didn't dare lift their heads proudly. It was until Rhode's Starlight rose to a powerful position that the Paphield region had finally stabilized. And this time, Rhode had also led his mercenaries to outstanding accomplishments of two 5 Star Missions and he wasn't worried that his guild would be disbanded like the Burning Blades. However, he also knew that the Winter Ceremony was extraordinarily important.
Because he had heard a lot of rumors that were unfavorable to his guild.