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 Two days had past since Rhode's group returned from a 'rewarding journey' from the Country of Light. Not only did he strike down the Light Parliament's prestige, but he also weakened their strength, at the same time extorted a legendary artifact, completed the mission, and 'devoured' Anne. Rhode recalled the grudgeful faces of the parliament members when they handed over the 'King's Protection' to Anne. The solemn atmosphere appeared like the losing country in war paying reparations: full of humiliation and resentment. However, for Rhode, who was always glad to grow his happiness on the suffering on others, this was the most wonderful comedy.

Not only that, but Anne also behaved dramatically when she accepted the 'King's Protection'. She knocked on the shield a couple of times before nodding in satisfaction. Then, she pushed open an opening on the shield hanging on her back and squeezed the 'King's Protection' into it like a sandwich. The parliament members rolled their eyes and almost fainted on the spot.

Even though Anne handled the shield negligently, it didn't mean that this 'King's Protection' was just a 'fake legendary artifact' that would turn useless after the game updated its patches. As a fantasy-level item, the [King's Protection] and [Historical Wing] in Rhode's possession didn't only exist physically, but were also merged with rules and concepts. A single look at the attribute would be enough to show how insane this shield was.

[King's Protection (Ancient. Fantasy. Bronze)-The King has the duty of protecting his people. When darkness closes in, it will turn into a sacred fortress that stands tall and exists as the final barrier under the glory.]

[Perseverance-Enemies below the Master Stage cannot deal any damage to the holder. The damage received from enemies above the Master Stage will progressively decrease by 5% and up to 35%. The holder will not die on the spot even when harmed by lethal attack]

[Holy Inscription-Immune from curse and poison attacks. Enhance the holder's attack with Holy Attribute powers. Increase strength by 5%]

[Rule Watcher-Immune from attacks with Chaos Attribute. Resistance to Rule Attribute +100]

[Eternal Presence-Artifact will not be destroyed]

[Requirements to equip: Strength Attribute Above 30]

Rhode sucked in a deep breath of cold air after witnessing the amazing enhancements to the attributes and he flinched as soon as he read the final line of [Requirements to equip: Strength Attribute Above 30]. In the game, even a Berserker who had focused on the strength build and was equipped with the highest quality items couldn't exceed a value of 30. It was already great enough to exceed 20 and even Barbarians and Giants couldn't possibly exceed 15. Due to Rhode's bloodline, he possessed powerful strength. Even though he couldn't view accurate values due to the seal, he was sure that his strength was hovering between 15 to 20 and this meant that, for example, he could lift up a light armored tank high in midair. This strength was considered formidable on this continent, but he didn't expect that Anne was much more insane than him. But come to think of it, Anne had always been carrying this steel shield of a few hundred kilograms around singlehandedly and not anyone could achieve this. Even though Rhode could lift it up, it would still be too tough for him to brandish it freely like a light feather.

The matter between Marlene, Lize, and Anne was resolved unexpectedly successful. Perhaps due to Lize venting her frustrations in the Mind Devil's mental world previously, she was the first to forgive Anne. On the other hand, Marlene sulked along the way and gave up helplessly after being thoroughly defeated by this remark from Anne: "Anne likes Leader so Anne wants to play with Leader. Sister Marlene, don't you like Leader too?" This also extinguished the backyard flames that Rhode was expecting to spread. Even though Rhode was confident enough that he could settle this trouble if the flames spread, he was clear that there were many times when a guy shouldn't intervene with women's problems. It would be for the best if they could resolve the problems by themselves. If he intervened, perhaps he might cause an estrangement among them. It was especially so when this specific problem was involved. No matter which side he stood on, he would offend the other party and he would offend everybody if he didn't side with anyone. He might as well hide in the corner and wait for their conflicts to resolve.

It seemed like it worked out well.

Rhode twitched his eyebrows and smiled at this thought. Then, he gathered his thoughts and summoned the system interface. The dense list of his subordinates' names emerged, but, unlike before, there was an additional status bar behind them.

This was the hidden reward for completing this mission-System Upgrade. After Rhode upgraded the construction system, he received an unexpected function-Reputation System.

Frankly speaking, Rhode was surprised as players weren't aware of this in the game. The players had always built up their own reputation, but never heard of NPCs working on theirs. But it seemed that the construction system in this world had changed. It was apparent that, no matter what, the system had recognized Rhode as a unique force and he could check on his subordinates' loyalty and reputation using this Reputation System.

Rhode tapped lightly with his finger. Shortly after, the entire name list was sorted out in terms of levels. However, Gillian, Canary, and Mini Bubble Gum weren't indicated on the list. It was apparent that the system didn't recognize them.

Rhode's name was on the top of the list, followed by Anne who held the highest level among his subordinates; level 50 Elite Stage. Next were Marlene and Lize with level 45 and level 40 respectively. Joey, Marfa, and Randolf were ranked lower with levels relatively lower than Lize at 38, 39, and 37. Everyone else further down the list were averaging between level 35 to 36. This was almost the highest level for humans who didn't have any special encounters. Even if Rhode were to train them up and modify their equipment, their strength would only reach level 40 Peak Elite Stage.

On the other hand, Lapis's level was really, really low. Even though she was an Alchemist Master, she was ranked at the bottom of the list at slightly over level 20. It could also be said that she had no battle capabilities.

With this Reputation System, Rhode had a certain extent of understanding on his subordinates.

The members who had been following him since Starlight was a mercenary group held maximum loyalty. This included Shauna and Old Walker, whose respect for Rhode was [Worship]. The other mercenaries who had fought alongside him mostly had maximum respect and almost entered [Worship]. On the contrary, those mercenaries including John's Cavalrymen who didn't fight alongside him were relatively lower in respect.

Rhode realized that there was a variation in this Reputation System, where only Marlene, Lize, and Anne didn't have [Worship] indicated behind their names, but [Love] was indicated instead. As for the reason... It went without saying.

But... this was a bonus, after all.

Rhode shifted his gaze to the ten first-rate Soul Cores lying quietly on the table before him. The Light Parliament didn't do anything funny with them because, after all, these Soul Cores were nothing precious in comparison to the legendary artifact ,[King's Protection]. However, it was apparent from the darkish color on the Soul Cores that they mostly came from Demons. It was apparent that, even though the Parliament Chairman had agreed to Rhode's request, they purposely chose Soul Cores with dark energy as they weren't as useful as ordinary ones. The best usage of these Soul Cores was to summon various Demons in dark rituals or create some equipment with dark and undead spells. The Light Parliament was determined to mess with Rhode, which explained why they had given him these.

But, it was a pity that... Rhode didn't need the Soul Cores to create magical equipment or for summoning rituals.

The reason why he requested for them was for the mission reward.

After completing the [Between Light and Light] mission, he quickly took a peek at the rewards. Just as the system had stated earlier, he could unlock and summon an additional Phantom Guardian the moment he completed the mission. But after scanning through the rewards, he realized that this so-called 'additional unlock' wasn't as simple as increasing the name list with another Phantom Guardian. Most importantly... It provided an additional unlock method.

The first method was the same as summoning the existing Phantom Guardians. It would allow Rhode to restore one of the most familiar characters from his memories unconditionally just like Mini Bubble Gum and Canary. They would come to this world without any equipment, but with supreme strength and limited movements within Rhode's territorial space. This was the basic summoning method of the Phantom Guardian.

As for the other method..

It would require ten Soul Cores and all Rhode had to do was to project one of the characters from his memories into one of the Soul Cores and create a set of summoning cards. Then, he could assign this card as the Core Card of one of the 10 Strongest Spirit Decks and materialize it. There was also a flaw to it. This Core Card would be born from level 0, but the benefits were also self-evident. It wouldn't be restricted within Rhode's territorial space like Mini Bubble Gum and Canary, where it could freely roam to every corner of the continent.

Judging from this aspect, this Core Card appeared more like a player instead. It could level up, complete missions, roam freely, possess its own class, Talent Trees, and technique masteries. More importantly, as a summoned card spirit, it could respawn upon death like any other players in the game. Apart from its identity as Rhode's summoning card, it could be considered totally like a player.

Rhode instantly chose the second method without any hesitation. Since the territorial space under him wasn't considered large, it would be enough to have Mini Bubble Gum and Canary to guard his them. Moreover, it wouldn't serve too much purpose to increase the number of Phantom Guardians. As for the other areas, Rhode needed an assistant who could work perfectly with him. Lize, Marlene, and Anne performed well, but they didn't come to this world like Rhode, after all, and there would be inconveniences in communication. It would be better for him if he could have someone whom they were mutually familiar with each other.

Even though Canary and Mini Bubble Gum met his requirements, they couldn't leave his territory, after all. Although Gillian was a suitable fit, he felt that their mutual understanding wasn't great enough and it would be for the best if he could have someone who understood him well.

Rhode didn't see the 'level 0' as a problem at all. Anyway, it would be a summoning card spirit and it would respawn upon death. Besides, it could also utilize other cards from the deck, just like how Gillian was the Core Card in the Red Lotus Card Deck, where she could use [Sulfur River], [Seven Hells], and [Flame Killer]. It would possess its own class skills, battle techniques, and the summoning spirits belonging to the Spirit Swordsman were quite formidable. Rhode was sure that it would catch up to his level quickly after grinding it out for awhile.

Currently, in the summoning ritual of the Spirit Swordsman, Gillian occupied the 'Wisdom' position in the 10 Strongest Spirit Decks and the remaining cores were empty. All this while, Rhode had no intentions of placing Celestina, Celia, Gracier, or Madaras into those positions. After all, they were also limited in usefulness for him even if they were materialized in those forms and they were better off maintaining their state in card forms for battles.

Since that's the case, who should I choose?

Knock knock.

When Rhode was frowning upon this question, Mini Bubble Gum and Canary entered the room.

"Rhode, you were looking for us?

"You two came at the right time."

Rhode showed a relieved expression. He beckoned to them to take a seat before activating his system mission and informing them of the rewards that he had received. The two young ladies' eyes glinted as soon as they heard about the additional Phantom Guardian.

"Leader, can you assign us for it?"

Mini Bubble Gum stood to her feet and swung her tiny clenched fist.

"I really want to go out for a stroll. There's no entertainment in here at all! It's so boring! Last time, I can at least play some games even when I stayed home all day! Ah, if I can head out, I will surely head to the Country of Light and show those stuck-up guys how powerful I am..."

"Bubble, didn't you hear what Rhode said? We are summoned beings and we can't be assigned to it."

Just as Mini Bubble Gum was brandishing her tiny fists and fantasizing on her wonderful future, Canary poured cold water on her and left her pouting resentfully. Mini Bubble Gum plunged back to her seat.

"I know, Big Sister. I was just thinking about it. Really..."

Canary smiled to her grumbles and turned to Rhode.

"Alright then, Rhode, what do you think about this? If you need someone who can help you, there are many available in the guild, isn't it?"

"You're right about that."

Rhode spread his arms apart helplessly. This was also why he had chosen to discuss with Canary and Mini Bubble Gum. There would be nearly a hundred candidates among players who could provide assistance to him. In the beginning, Rhode had considered Mini Bubble Gum and Canary as suitable candidates because they worked well together and were extremely familiar with one another. In fact, apart from the enhancements of the Sphere of Mystery, Canary and Mini Bubble Gum were also effective in their training sessions. No matter if it was Lize, Marlene, Anne, Randolf, Joey, Marfa, and the others, everyone had benefited from their 'drills'. However, Rhode had decided that two persons were enough as instructors. No matter what, there was still a limit to the strength of the natives of this world. Most of them might not even reach their peaks in their whole lives and as a result, there were no need to teach them complicated and exquisite battle techniques.

Alright then, what role should the next Phantom Guardian take up?

"How about that old fella?"

Mini Bubble Gum kicked her legs under the chair.

"Isn't Marlene lacking manpower on her side? That old fella did rather well in the guild, so why not get him to help?"

"There's no need to."

Rhode shook his head.

"Olden Rascal is more fit to deal with players and his expertise isn't useful here. Also, Marlene is better off managing her matters on her own."

Rhode shrugged helplessly. Indeed, as one of the vice-leaders of Starlight Guild, Olden Rascal was popular among the players and was responsible diplomatically. However, Rhode realized that reality and here were entirely different. As a matter of fact, even Canary and Mini Bubble Gum weren't used to the customs here. But natives like Marlene and the others were. This world had strict classifications, where every social class had their own unique rules. Even though the restrictions were tight, players wouldn't mind bowing down all the way to show respect for others as they only treated it as just a game. On the contrary, this was extremely important for the natives and as a result, it was better to appoint Marlene to manage such serious matters. If the role was only responsible in providing suggestions, Canary and Rhode could carry out this duty out perfectly and it wasn't necessary to waste one precious summoning spot.

"How about べBunBun__ミ?"

"... Who's that?"

"It's [email protected]"

"... Why would you think of her?"

"Everyone in the guild knows that she's interested in you, Leader. Since no one cares here, how about you summon her out and be a couple with her?"

"I'm not running a love variety show here. Be serious, Bubble."

"Eh? I just thought that it'll be quite interesting..."

Canary lifted her head and let out a cough. Mini Bubble Gum instantly shut her mouth and turned to the other young lady. Then, Canary spoke softly.

"I think we can focus more in terms of our army."

Rhode sulked slightly.

After the battle with the Cyan Goshawk on the ice field, the army had become the chief of Rhode's worries. Even though John wasn't wrong in his response, Rhode was clear that if his Cavalryman weren't that unfortunate to be captured and returned to their formation in time, perhaps Rhode wouldn't even know that his men were detained by the Light Parliament. It was also from that moment onward that Rhode realized his slip-up. Indeed, he knew that John Grayer was an impressive and brave commander in the game. However, he had neglected a point that this wasn't a game and everyone in this world grew up to the current state that they were in. This wasn't in the game where he could uncover a character with hidden attributes and groom him or her into a formidable character.

Even in reality, there were often times when the trend of events brought forth the heroes. If it weren't for the experiences that they had gone through in the past, perhaps they wouldn't even become well-known characters and would only become historians or young shepherds. John had the potential, but his experiences weren't rich enough for him to handle complicated situations. Rhode originally had the intentions of handing over all his private soldiers to John's leadership, but he changed his mind after that incident. John was still too young, after all, and was incapable of carrying this heavy responsibility. Currently, Rhode needed a talent who could command the army.

Rhode didn't have such a candidate, but a person came up in his mind after Canary mentioned the key word.

Rhode stood to his feet and Canary smiled to his expression.

"Have you decided, Rhode?"

"That's right. I've made up my mind on a suitable candidate."

Rhode nodded firmly.

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