Anne's emotions appeared to have calmed down after Rhode returned to the Fortress. She wasn't behaving extremely differently, at the very least. Rhode let Anne stayed by his side for the time being to check on her situation. No one could give an accurate explanation of Anne's behaviors. Although one's emotions might be affected during the change of season, a change as dramatic as Anne's was rarely seen. Gillian was the only one who seemed to know what was going on with Anne. This cunning fox-eared young lady currently was out of the Land of Atonement and handling some matters following Rhode's orders. Even so, she heard about Anne's situation from Rhode's spiritual communications. But she wasn't worried about it.
"Don't worry, Master. This is really, really normal for Half-Beasts, especially for Anne, who has just awakened her powers."
"But why didn't she behave this way before?"
Rhode frowned and gazed at Anne who was snoring away by the table. Gillian responded with a chuckle.
"That's because the beast powers in Little Anne's body hadn't been awakened yet. Back then, she had more Human blood, so there weren't any issues. But now, the beast powers in her are affecting her, which explains the changes."
"Will this continue forever?"
Rhode knitted his brows. If that was the case, it would become a troublesome problem. He was experienced in interpersonal communications. Although everyone in the guild adored Anne, that was due to her cheerful personality, after all. If Anne continued to behave this way, no one would be able to tolerate it in the long run. This would mean that leaving the guild was her only choice left. If that happened, Rhode could imagine how painful her life would be.
Gillian let out a pleasant laughter.
"Master, you seem to be really worried for Little Anne. I'm so jealous. Aiya, what should I do? I'm also a woman and jealousy is in my blood. You care about another woman before me and don't even care about my wellbeing. Sigh... Master, how can you be so heartless? I'm all alone out here and all I need is some encouragement and care from my beloved. If not, maybe I will head the streets alone, find a pub to drown my sorrows away, and sleep with a random man in my drunk self. What if I'm pregnant with his kid and he is a married, reputable noble, who isn't concerned about a homeless woman with no background like me? My only choice left is to give birth to the child and leave the city, leading a painful life alone... Master, do you bear to leave me regretting my whole life due to my silly mistake?"
"You seem rather clear that it's a silly mistake though."
Rhode rolled his eyes hopelessly. Gillian giggled and continued.
"Uh-huh... Actually, you don't need to worry too much about Little Anne's situation because this will happen every year for a period of time. But there are different types of beast races, each with unique behaviors. But... that will depend on you. If you handle it well, Little Anne will not suffer from this problem in the future. But if you don't handle it well... You'll just have to tolerate it once a year."
"So, how exactly should I do it?"
Rhode felt a sense of relief after learning from Gillian that this transformation was only temporary. He was worried that such changes would keep affecting Anne and eventually transform her entire personality. The conditions sounded like a seasonal allergy, where it wouldn't affect one too much even though it couldn't be cured. But even so, it would be a headache for everyone. If it was possible, Rhode hoped to solve this 'problem' once and for all.
This time, Gillian didn't give Rhode a firm answer that he had anticipated. Instead, Rhode heard the amusing chuckles from her.
"Regarding that... It will depend on yourself, alright? I've said it before that I'm a jealous woman. You cared for another woman before me and that makes it unbearable for me. So as a small punishment, I will let you find the answer yourself. Alright then, goodbye for now... The 'Skynet Plan' is going smoothly, so don't worry about it... Huhuhu..."
Rhode shook his head helplessly. He knew that Gillian wasn't a petty person. But he admitted that he did screw up the situation a little and allowed Gillian to take advantage of it. Even so, he accepted the sins he had committed. Gillian had hinted to him the key to resolving this problem and that he would be able to do it as long as he worked for it.
Anne's problems wouldn't be easily resolvable in just one or two days. But since Anne wasn't behaving ridiculously whenever she was around him, he didn't mind observing her for a while longer. But there was another matter that he couldn't drag any longer.
The recruitment of his private soldiers.
An official military army was definitely necessary for the upcoming war. Although John's Cavalrymen had improved in strength and received stronger armor and weapons, it still wasn't enough. Rhode decided to recruit some civilians into his private soldier team during this winter season. This way, he could form a team of up to thousand soldiers by spring next year.
Although Rhode had thought about this in the past, most of the objective conditions disallowed him in doing so. In other regions, the recruitment of military troops was done among the civilians too because there were enough locals to fulfill the requirements. The Land of Atonement and Grenbell were basically deserted and he failed to recruit anyone. Thereafter, even though he had built his Fortress and several people moved in, the number of people was too small and it wasn't even enough to maintain the operations of the Fortress, not to mention becoming a private soldier army.
And now, the population in the Land of Atonement had slowly increased, with an influx of foreigners searching for opportunities to live. Moreover, the status of Starlight brought an increasing number of mercenaries to his territory. It was currently winter: the best time to recruit private soldiers. Therefore, Rhode had decided to form a team as quickly as possible for the upcoming crisis.
Although there were rumors among the mercenaries that only those who performed outstandingly could become Rhode's private soldiers, in fact, Rhode had no intentions of recruiting too many mercenaries. This was because soldiers were required to ensure strict obedience, where they couldn't say no to throwing their lives away. However, the mercenaries would mostly choose to protect themselves and they would likely abandon their team in the face of calamity, which naturally was a bad thing. Therefore, Rhode had decided to pick most private soldiers from civilians and recruited some experienced or retired mercenaries. They would go through adjustments under John and train up in the Sphere of Mystery, eventually forming a qualified team.
Rhode didn't set his heart on this matter due to him being an official overlord. Instead, it was more of coordinating with his battle tactics. After personally experiencing this world, he was clear that there was bound to be a war between him and the Country of Darkness and Country of Light. In order to prepare for then, he needed to have ways to deal with both countries. The earlier he set up his private soldier team, the stronger the camaraderie they would have. Besides, he had also decided on his battle style and he intended to 'import' all the tactics he had used in the game and enhance them.
In the game, his tactic in leading Starlight and dominating the whole world was fairly simple. Ultimately, just one word would be sufficient to describe it-backstabbing.
Rhode knew the tactics by heart in the game. Most of his forces would be used to gather the attention of most enemy troops and lure them out of their fortress and stronghold. He would lead another elite squad from the rear to occupy or destroy their stronghold. Then, he would coordinate with the front troops and sandwich the enemies from both sides. This was actually a really simple trick that many other players loved to use too. Everyone was familiar with 'luring the tiger from its domain in the mountains', but Starlight was the only one that mastered backstabbing to the highest level. Thereafter, the opposing guilds, player overlords, and even NPCs knew that Starlight would only resort to this tactic no matter if it was in positional, defensive, or attacking battles. Luring the enemies out of their territories and backstabbing them.
But knowing was one thing and deciphering was another. Just like 'The Little Li Flying Dagger', everyone knew that he needed just one dagger to kill someone, but they couldn't dodge it no matter how. Rhode's Starlight had dominated the game for years and everyone knew about their tactic unless they were newbies. However, almost no one could decipher it. Although the tactic appeared simple, there were countless variations involved in adapting to the various environments and situations in battle.
The reason why Rhode had chosen this tactic wasn't solely because he was familiar with it. Instead, it was mostly because it didn't demand too much from individuals. In the game, he didn't need players to possess impressive PK skills. Instead, it was most important that they followed his orders. As long as they met the requirements, he would be pleased to add even the newer players into the main team. If they didn't meet the conditions, he would kick them out even if they were ranked top 10 in the player rankings.
Of course, it wasn't enough to just be disciplined. There were also disciplined and even iron-blooded groups in the player community. Back then, a commander with a great overall view and a keen tactical touch was needed to coordinate with Rhode and this position was taken up by 'Old Man Runs' and 'Jade Heart', who were also the vice-leaders of Starlight. Their camaraderie was so strong with Rhode that they coordinated without the need of communications. Rhode had intended to put John in place of their positions. A strong assault and ability to act by the troops that were led by John were a necessary part of Rhode's tactic. Although there were still some gap between their tacit understanding of cooperation, Rhode believed that there wouldn't be too much of an issue if he used the time to polish it.
In this tactic, the most important point was to penetrate the enemy's rear with the elite squad. In the game, the elite squad, led by Rhode, contained Canary and Mini Bubble Gum. However, unlike the large forces, not only did the elite squad have to abide by all orders, but they also needed to be responsive, have adaptable capabilities, and deal lethal damage. Although penetrating from the rear had to be an ambush, players who were used to being ambushed by Rhode had their own counter responses like applying counter-strategies or luring them into their encirclement. Everyone was aware of all the possible schemes and stratagems. And now, powerful strength had become necessary.
This also led to high requirements in becoming part of Rhode's elite squad. Among the hundred players in Rhode's elite squad, at least half of them were ranked top 100 in the player rankings and the others were hovering around the top 200, which was enough to see the high requirements.
If Rhode used this requirement to recruit the current team, all of them would surely be eliminated. But he was fortunate that the Humans on this continent weren't as powerful as players, where even the Undead Legion, which was known for their outstanding strength, were only a quarter of the players' strength at the same level. Rhode, Celia, Celestina, Gracier, Madaras, Gillian, Lize, and Anne's strength would be enough to face them. Moreover, mercenaries like Randolf, Marfa, and Joey had improved their strength tremendously in the Sphere of Mystery. Therefore. Rhode was confident in facing the Undead Legion as long as there weren't BOSSes like the Four Legendary Generals.
However, he also knew that there were some awful flaws in his current elite squad. The biggest problem was the lack of powerful AOE skills in them. In the game, one of the reasons why Rhode's tactic worked was that AOE skills were perfect for cramped environments like the stronghold and fortresses. They were lethal and accurate and this was why Rhode requested for more individuals with powerful AOE skills in his elite squad. Currently, only Gillian and Marlene met this requirement, but this wasn't enough. Moreover, these people couldn't only be Mages and they had to be offensive on a higher level. And these people were rarely seen in his guild.
Although it wasn't impossible to cultivate now, time was limited, after all. Fortunately, Rhode had his ways in managing such a situation.
Marlene entered the room and saw Anne snoring away by the table. She shook her head with a bitter smile and approached Rhode.
"You were looking for me, Rhode?"
"Yes, Marlene. I need your help."
Rhode nodded and handed two envelopes to her.
"I hope you can send someone to deliver the two envelopes to the Demon Hunter Squad in the Black Fin Coast and the Battle Mage Group in the Eastern Plain. I want to invite them to become my private troops in the name of Grenbell's overlord. I've written the specific conditions and requirements in the letters within."
"Demon Hunter Squad and Battle Mage Group?
Marlene was taken aback. She looked at Rhode dubiously.
"Rhode, do you know that they have bad reputations...? If you do this..."
"Of course I'm aware, Marlene. But they aren't as terrifying as the rumors described. Besides, I need their strength now and I hope to receive sufficient magical suppressing powers and strong members. These guys are good choices... And they will be much more useful than the fragile Mages from the Mage School."
"I understand, Rhode."
Marlene nodded and took over the two envelopes. However, she didn't instantly leave. She gazed at Rhode hesitantly and pondered in silence.
"But... Rhode, if you really need some help, I guess... the Senia Family can perhaps provide you with some."
Rhode perked up when he heard the good news. He switched his pose and gazed curiously at Marlene.
"What kind of help?"
Marlene thought about it for a moment.
"If you hope to have powerful members who can suppress magical powers, then... I think our Senia Family's Mage Equipment might be useful for you."