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159 Midnight Battle

 The currents of the wind could be heard, becoming louder and louder.

The whistling of the night wind suddenly grew violent. Mournful cries could be heard vaguely within. And the shabby door couldn't stop shaking under the strong wind.

"Activate buffs!"

Rhode quickly gave an order. But his mercenaries gave him a confused expression when they heard the unfamiliar command. Rhode helplessly slapped his forehead and rephrased himself.

"Use the potions. The potions! Lize, get ready. Marlene, protection!"

Once they understood, the mercenaries skillfully retrieved a tube filled with a red, sticky substance from their belt pouches. They smeared the concoction over their weapons and gave a casual swing. It caused a similar phenomenon to the breaking of the sound barrier as their equipment immediately started immolating with a blue and magical flame. The flames twirled upward, emitting a strong aura. And at this moment, Lize raised her slowly staff, causing several empowered shields to cover the mercenaries. Marlene then gripped her staff tightly and smashed it down towards the ground. Almost immediately, mysterious runes appeared and expanded in a circular pattern quickly with Lize's staff as its epicenter. The runes then formed a three-layered magic array with the runes on top being almost invisible to the eye.

Rhode and Anne stood within the circle, protecting the frightened Christie. Before the battle, Rhode told the mercenaries that this battle with the undead creatures was a test for their battle abilities. As such, he would only step in when it was necessary. As for Marlene, Lize, Celia, and Shauna, each of them were responsible for the attack and defense from their respective zones. Rhode purposely chose this setup as he wanted to check out their commanding and reaction abilities.

In fact, facing the pressure of the incoming undead, all four of them had different commanding styles.

Shauna, who had the most experience, was the first to complete the formation. She made use of the most common tactic. Shauna made her men form two squads, one squad for defense while the other would seek an opportunity to attack. With a balance between offense and defense, she found that this was the most reliable way to destroy the enemy.

Celia's 'tactic' leaned towards solo-killing. She stood in front of the team like a Goddess of War, with both hands gripping the sword. Her majestic white wings spanned out, giving an illusion of superiority and grandeur. And her battle style was distinct. She would handle the elite monsters while leaving the rest to deal with the leftovers.

Compared to two battle-hardened veterans, Marlene's method of fighting was entirely different. She didn't choose to command a group nor engage in the frontlines. Marlene decided to use the conventional way of battling as a mage - adopting the position as the rear guard. This way, she could make use of the frontlines to buy her time so she could charge and unleash large area-of-effect spells upon the undead without harassment from the undead.

Lize's performance was the most disappointing amongst the three of them. She didn't know how to command mercenaries efficiently, so she eventually gave a few simple commands and allowed the mercenaries to do as they deemed. Afterwards, she would join the rear to buff and provide healing. Lize wasn't dumb. She certainly understood that her battle abilities could not be compared to the rest. Thus, she brought her men and hunkered down in the defense circle. Her simple strategy was to use Marlene and Celia as shields to protect herself and so as to allow her more time to engage in healing and defensive duties. Although she didn't have much talent in commanding in battles, this maiden did understand her role in a battle. She acknowledged that her duties weren't about destroying enemies, but to withdraw to the defensive zone. And as long as her side wasn't broken through, then it's enough. The rest could be left to Celia, Marlene and the remainder of the mercenaries to handle.

And right now the mercenaries were oddly serious. No matter what, this was the first mission after they signed the contract. According to Rhode's explanation, their performances would directly impact their future daily remunerations, which would explicitly affect their life within to the mercenary group. In the past, the mercenaries had never encountered contracts. Now that the pressure on them was higher, they had already secretly decided to perform well in this mission. If Rhode recognized their efforts, then it would be considered a success.

At this moment, the undead finally appeared.

Translucent bodies, releasing slight spirit presence, their empty eye sockets were filled with eerie darkness. The spirits floating above the ground opened their abnormally huge mouths as they charged forward while screaming. They stretched out their limbs, trying to grab everyone in front of them. Although the undead lacked basic intelligence, their hatred towards the living was enough for them to act out in subconsciousness.

"Evil dead, return to nothingness!"

Celia shouted and swung her long sword towards the dead soul that charged at her.

The sword that burned with holy flames sliced into the undead's body like a hot knife through butter. Almost immediately, the holy fire erupted and devoured its prey. It didn't end there. The fire startled to rage as it spread apart like ignited oil. Once the flame licks another undead, it would engulf them in a ball of fire almost instantaneously. Soon, the battlefield on Celia's side appeared to be a firestorm of holy flames. The undead that were caught in the firestorm screamed and retreated, using their frail limbs to beat their bodies in an attempt to extinguish the silver-white flames. However, Celia did not give them any chances to recuperate. She howled as she spread her wings, dashing and slicing through the horde of undead, leaving a trail of holy light in her wake.

On the other side, Marlene's battle was equally exciting.

"-Aliya!"

The maiden's chant echoed with magical energy, causing bits of magic particles to begin coalescing on her fingertips. Beams of magic energy then shot out quickly from Marlene's fingers like a rainstorm as it accurately pierced the undead that were clashing with the mercenaries. Before the undead could react, Marlene was already beginning to cast her next wave of spells. She caressed the gem on her staff and recited a few magical commands, causing those runes that were hidden in the ground to activate suddenly. Flame pillars shot up as high as 2 meters, burning the undead to a crisp.

"Stay within the magical barrier, don't move forward!"

Marlene frowned and stopped the mercenaries who intended to charge out to attack. She forced them to return to the inner defensive zone. At the same time, she glanced at the gap to the side and frowned. In an instant, ice shards formed into a shape of a sword and flashed towards the undead like lightning who were attempting to sneak in from the side.

On the other side, Marlene shouted loudly for her men to guard the front.

"Beware of their hands. Be careful. Don't force it, dummies!"

While she was yelling commands, Marlene dodged an attack from an undead. She held onto a sword and swung horizontally. The sword sliced through the undead body easily, forcing it to scream and attempted to escape. But at this moment, the other mercenaries immediately followed up with swords of their own, piercing through its body. The undead finally gave up struggling. It twisted its body and screamed in both pain or relief as it turned into ashes.

Everything is going well.

Facing this battle, Rhode nodded his head with satisfaction. These mercenaries went through a certain period of training and also the battle in the Twilight Forest, so they naturally became more familiar with one another. Their teamwork seemed to be much smoother than before. Even Lize's team defense was also sturdy as a mountain. Despite comprehending her shortcoming, she chose the most effective method that she knew to best display her combat effectiveness. She wholeheartedly committed to the defense of the mercenaries while weakening the offense of the undead. Also, with the periodic help from Marlene and Celia, there wasn't much problem.

Rhode observed the battle with satisfaction and nodded. He caressed Christie's hair and scanned the surrounding darkness at the same time. Rhode confirmed that this wave of undead was only to prod their strength. If the enemies noticed something wrong, they would immediately retreat. The number of undead was limited after all.

In his system prompt, Rhode could see lines and lines of experience appearing and disappearing in his eyes. These undead brought little EXP, just merely over tens. Frankly, though, it was better than nothing. He silently counted the amount.

25...27...29...30... About there!

Indeed, just when Rhode counted to 35, the undead who were fiercely attacking stopped suddenly and quickly retreated, disappearing into the darkness in a blink of an eye.

"..."

All of a sudden, the fierce battle turned quiet. The mercenaries stared at each other.

What happened?

Why did the undead run away?

Did they realize they have failed?

What is going on?

"Get ready, trouble's here!"

Rhode reminded his bewildered mercenaries to stay alert, but before they could react, a scream sounded.