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 Viktor couldn't restrain his strong urge to smile as he turned to Barter. The latter revealed a rare look of dismay and scratched his head dubiously. Then, he sprung his eyes open and nodded with might.

"Oh, yea yea yea! That's right, Kid. Hahaha. I've forgotten about it... That was after the Midsummer Festival, eh? Don't worry, I always keep my promise."

"Yes, Mr. Barter."

Rhode maintained the pretentious, passionate smile on his face.

"Just as I've thought. Seems like you're a true man who keeps to his promise. So then, please accept this and I look forward to seeing you during the Winter Ceremony."

Rhode passed the small bag to Barter and the latter took it over with a puzzled look. Barter tossed the bag between his hands and when he looked down, Rhode had taken half a step back and bowed slightly.

"Alright then, I have to report to the association. See you guys at the Winter Ceremony."

Rhode entered the passage without turning back and disappeared into the corner. The duo exchanged gazes and Barter shrugged, letting out a long sigh.

"Never did I expect him... to succeed."

"That's right. I thought so too."

Viktor nodded in agreement. Frankly speaking, even though Rhode's Starlight had been promoted to a guild after the Midsummer Festival, Viktor and Barter wasn't that optimistic because according to the Mercenary Association, a guild had to accomplish at least two 5 Star Missions in a year and the missions were usually extremely challenging. It wasn't strange that Barter and Viktor were confident in their guilds. Even though they had focused all their time preparing for the Midsummer Festival and didn't have much time for the 5 Star Missions, they, as experienced and veteran guild leaders, had begun the search for the two 5 Star Missions as soon as they completed the 5 Star Missions of the previous year. Therefore, they weren't fully unprepared and to them, Rhode was the one who wasn't ready. His mercenary group had just been promoted to a guild and he was slapped with this tough task. Moreover, Starlight was known for their lack of manpower. Honestly speaking, they did see some hope in Rhode after many mercenaries yearned to join Starlight, but Rhode's strict recruitment requirements made their jaws drop. Although the mercenaries' level of strength were all over the place, they would still be useful no matter what since they were mercenaries. If Rhode recruited the maximum of 800 mercenaries, he wouldn't face any problems in tackling the two 5 Star Missions. But his actions had taken them by surprise, where less than 500 mercenaries were eventually recruited into Starlight. That was incomparable to the Purple Lily and Cole Falcon Guilds. Although the duo understood Rhode's 'quality over quantity' mindset, they believed that one must still bow down to reality. Indeed, some mercenaries might not be strong enough to be efficient, but they were still obedient, nonetheless, and were willing to contribute for the guild. Wasn't this a sufficient reason to have them around?

It was due to this that they weren't optimistic about Starlight. Rhode had to gather that many mercenaries in a short period and also accomplish two 5 Star Missions. Moreover, Rhode didn't start preparing as they did a year ago and it would be a miracle if he managed to accomplish the missions!

Then... a miracle happened.

Not only did Rhode complete the missions, but he was also the fastest among the three guilds to complete them. According to internal news, Rhode didn't send out a massive army like Barter and Viktor for the missions. Instead, the total number of mercenaries involved were less than 100 for both missions. Got to say, Barter and Viktor were astounded when they heard about this news. They couldn't imagine how Rhode had accomplished this feat, with the limited manpower too.

But now, he actually did it.

Barter and Viktor had also heard about the rumors spreading in the Mercenary Association, but they weren't concerned because the three guilds had their personal fiefs and Rhode's situation wouldn't affect them no matter how overpowering he was. Besides, they were also opposed to those views for the sake of their own benefit. Although it was an exception that Rhode was conferred the feudal rank by Lydia, the Cole Falcon Guild and Purple Lily Guild were still loyal to the King's Party. Besides, in the process of stopping the armed rebellion, their mercenaries had provided the King's Party with useful intelligence. Therefore, perhaps they might also receive the same honor from Lydia one day, which was why they wouldn't be that foolish to support the voices of objections. After all, no one would complain that one had too much authority in their hands. If they supported the Mercenary Association in stripping Rhode of his mercenary title, wouldn't they face the same fate in future too?

But...

"Barter, do you really still remember the bet?"

Viktor said, sizing Barter up with playful eyes to see if the latter was feigning his calmness. Barter scratched his head.

"Of course. I agreed to give him one of the commercial channels within my territory if he won. It isn't anything much, so what's there to talk about?"

"... Sigh..."

Viktor let out a long, helpless sigh. Then, he patted on Barter's shoulder.

"My friend, seems like your memories are failing you day by day. You should find a successor for Purple Lily soon."

"Why?"

Barter was at a loss. Viktor didn't explain further as he patted once again on Barter's shoulder and pointed to the bag that appeared seemingly tiny in his huge hands.

"You will understand when you look into that. Hahaha. Barter, you said that you'd always keep to your promise and it's too late to go back on your words now. So... I shall take my leave and I look forward to a good showing by you."

"... What gives?"

Barter gazed at Viktor's departure dubiously. He murmured under his breath and opened the bag.

"Aaaah...!"

As though a gigantic bear bellowing, the bustling hall of the Mercenary Association fell into silence abruptly. The crowd turned to the tall man in the corner, but Barter was uninterested in their curious gazes. He gritted his teeth while staring at the contents of the bag palely.

"That little bastard-!"

Rhode didn't hear Barter's snarl and perhaps he would laugh it off even if he had heard it. Barter was the one who asked for it, so who could he blame... Rhode decided to teach this man a lesson from the start of the Midsummer Festival. He beat his brains out to come up with this gift which he hoped Barter would love. Rhode had been looking forward to this moment for a long time.

Rhode leaned languidly by the window frame and gazed at the clean, white world outside the window. Early winter snow fluttered in the chilly breeze while the warm fireplace indoors formed a layer of thin white fog on the glass.

This reminded him of the conversation he had with the Mercenary Association Chairman, Lauren.

Chairman Lauren appeared much more haggard than when he was in the Midsummer Festival. As Rhode had expected, Chairman Lauren expressed concern about Rhode's identity. According to him, this was the craze among the internal department of the Mercenary Association. However, the situation was unique, after all. In normal circumstances, mercenaries were always under the administration of the Mercenary Association. However, they were pressured by Royal Highness Lydia. It could also be said that from today onward, the Mercenary Association in the Munn Kingdom would be under the control of the three guilds and the Mercenary Association would exist only to run errands and pass messages.

Rhode wasn't concerned about the future of the Mercenary Association. After the conversation, he had clearly expressed his stand that he wouldn't give up his identity as a mercenary or his guild because it wasn't part of the rules. But he had given Chairman Lauren a way out of the predicament. In exchange for maintaining his identity, Rhode expressed that he wouldn't intervene with the management of southern mercenary groups and would hand over the forces to the Purple Lily and Cole Falcon Guilds. He knew the hostile view Southern mercenaries held toward him and he didn't want to manage a group of guys who harbored hard feelings against him. Although the expansion of forces was naturally a great thing for ordinary guilds, it wasn't enough to satisfy Rhode anymore.

Lauren had no reasons to object to his suggestion because he knew that this young man was at the peak of his powers in the Munn Kingdom. Even though Lauren was the Mercenary Association Chairman, he found it hard to lift his head before the young man even without these troubles. He was worried that Rhode would demand for his share of the loot of the southern mercenary groups. Since Rhode wasn't interested in that, Lauren would gladly agree to his request. Besides, the mercenaries weren't able to find any excuses to object Rhode anymore.

How boring.

Rhode threw the annoying matters to the back of his head. He had received some unfavorable news from Gillian regarding the development of the 'Skynet Plan'. Although Rhode had gotten Matt's help, the latter was only a regional merchant and his trade association hadn't expanded to a massive scale yet. But this was fine too. Even though it would be rather tough to carry out this plan, it would lower others' vigilance, which was fortunate for Rhode... At least no one would suspect this plan immediately.

But... Rhode was most concerned about another matter.

He extended his hand and a spotlessly white card emerged on his palm.

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