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195 Training Begins

 [Mission completed. Stronghold successfully upgraded. Available room types increased. Probe in intelligence increased.]

Rhode nodded his head while reading the system prompt. He lifted his head and glanced across the cold and gloomy basement. This place used to be a cellar for the nobles to store fine wines, and now it was just another ordinary empty room. Rhode summoned his system prompt and reviewed the construction menu.

[Build --- Training Ground (LV1). Confirm to build?]

Yes.

[Building the Training Ground requires 300 gold coin and Sphere of Mystery. Continue?]

Continue.

Rhode answered while looking at the Sphere of Mystery floating by his side.

A golden light shone once again.

It was similar to the time when Rhode repaired this building; the golden light radiated from his hand as it formed a web across the entire room. It quickly analyzed the whole basement and transformed into an intangible material. Along with it, the damp, cold and narrow basement suddenly changed drastically.

Rumble.

The basement started to expand and rise rapidly. Solid, blue slabs coated the moist surface. The shabby rocks on the walls quickly transformed into a fireplace. With that, the flames from the fireplace drove the chilly cold away from the basement and brought warmth. In the corner, wooden and realistic human-shaped targets erected. And in the center, an exquisite sculpture emerged from the ground. The figure resembled a swordsman with a sword in one hand, and the other on its chest. The Sphere of Mystery beside Rhode quietly floated to the palm of the sculpture. From where Rhode stood, he could discern some intricacies from within the complicated and mysterious patterns on the sculpture. The whole statue was a small scale formation that could utilize the Sphere of Mystery's mysterious energy.

It seems like everything is going well.

Rhode nodded to himself with satisfaction. And at that moment, someone knocked on the door behind him.

"Come in."

Rhode replied without turning back. The wooden door opened and everyone entered. When they noticed the change, all of them suddenly became speechless.

"What happened here?"

Marlene was the first to recover. She stared suspiciously at this large training ground. Her memory of this place was vastly different from what it was right now. Previously, when Marlene was appointed to manage the mercenary group, she made a thorough check on every corner of this stronghold. Based on her memories, this should be an empty cellar. But now, what was this?

An illusion spell?

The maiden shook her head. As a Mage, she knew casting such illusions wasn't easy. Moreover, Rhode had never showcased this side of him. And furthermore, the objects that she observed didn't seem to have the slight blurriness that an illusion spell would surely have. Marlene extended her hand and placed it on the wall. The sensation from the dry wood correctly informed her that everything was real.

"Just a little trick."

Rhode didn't want to reveal anything at the moment. In fact, even if he did reveal his methods, where would he start to explain it? He shook his head inwardly and turned towards the group. There were five members present. Anne, Marlene, Lize, Joey and Randolf. These were the main candidates that Rhode had chosen for the mid-summer festival. According to the festival rules, regardless of group battles or individual battles, every guild was allowed to send only five members and one substitute. After all, this festival only lasted for a few days, and the guilds wouldn't be too happy if it dragged on for too long.

"I think all of you know that we are going to represent Paphield Region to participate in the mid-summer festival."

Everyone nodded in unison.

"All of you here will participate in this competition with me."

Although they were already mentally prepared, to hear it directly from Rhode, Anne and Lize couldn't help but feel excited. The mid-summer festival competition can be considered a grand stage that only mercenaries of Munn Kingdom could step on. A small mercenary group's biggest dream was to be accepted and cheered on by others. Marlene had an indifferent reaction as compared to the others. As an heir of the Senia family, she had once participated the mid-summer festival with her family. But at that time, she went as one of the audience.

"But..."

Just when everyone was getting pumped, Rhode changed his tone.

"To be honest, based on your current strength, none of you are qualified for this competition. I can guarantee that if all of you entered right now, it will be a guaranteed loss."

Rhode's straightforward analysis of their current status was like a wet blanket, completely dousing the flames in their hearts. However, they quickly recollected themselves and stole glances at one another. The joy and anticipation of entering the competition turned into embarrassment and insecurity. After all, deep within, all of them understood the strength of the mercenaries taking part in the mid-summer festival competition. If it easy to be champion, how could it be a fleeting dream for most mercenaries?

But the sad truth was that their strengths were indeed insufficient to step up onto that stage. Otherwise, they wouldn't still be in this small little mercenary group.

"Has anyone seen the mid-summer festival competition?"

Other than Marlene, everyone else shook their head. Rhode shot Marlene a look and asked.

"How far do you think you will go if you're up there?"

"Me?"

Marlene frowned and grabbed her staff while considering her answer. After hesitating a while, she spoke with a bit of uncertainty, "I'm not too sure... The semifinals... maybe?"

Hearing Marlene's answer, the other four took in deep breaths. Regarding individual strength, Marlene was unmistakably one of the strongest amongst them. But even she didn't have the confidence to reach the semifinals. This would most likely mean danger for the rest of them.

Rhode tapped on the sculpture next to him and casually said, "So you heard her. I need all of you to strengthen up."

For some unknown reason, all of them seemed to sense that Rhode was rejoicing in their misfortune.

"And now there is a good way to train. I found a Sphere of Mystery during my latest adventure. It can provide a decent training experience, so I will prepare a few enemies for all of you..."

"Sphere of Mystery?"

Marlene cried out in surprise. She quickly walked to the front of the sculpture and examined the floating sphere. Her expression slightly changed.

"This is a... mirage?"

"You know about this?"

Rhode frowned at Marlene's question and asked with surprise. Marlene nodded.

"During my school days, there were similar Spheres of Mystery, where the mirage could produce a training ground and it could even utilize the holder's memories to search for an opponent... I had practiced in there before, but... Mr. Rhode, how were able to find this thing too?"

"Just some luck."

Of course, Rhode wouldn't speak the truth. He shrugged his shoulders and turned towards everyone.

"So then, are all of you ready?"

Although most of them couldn't understand the conversation between the two, they eventually nodded and got ready. Once Rhode saw that they were prepared, he activated the Sphere of Mystery.

Dazzling rays of light erupted from the floating sphere. The blinding radiance forced everyone to shut their eyes, and when they reopened their eyes, the scene gave them a huge shock.

The training ground from before had disappeared entirely and was replaced with a vast, empty, white space. It seemed to stretch to infinity. As everyone looked around and observed this strange place, Rhode's voice sounded once again.

"In here, your equipment will not have any effects. You can only rely on your own battle techniques. But rest assured, your opponents will have an equal level as you so you wouldn't be overwhelmed. But on the other hand..."

Rhode stopped speaking for a moment and shrugged his shoulders while glancing over at the five.

"Perhaps all of you would feel the difference in skill quicker this way."

As Rhode finished, he snapped his finger.

"Boom."

Five human figures gradually walked over from nowhere. Everyone stared at them in confusion.

Those were five adventurers, or maybe could say they look like five adventurers.

There were two males and three females. Ranger, thief, tank, cleric, and mage respectively. Apparently, they were explicitly chosen from each of their classes. But to everyone, these randomly appeared opponents seemed to be dressed rather oddly.

A male ranger stood to the leftmost. He had a warm smile but was outlandish. He was obviously a man, but he had stud earrings on his ears, and even his nose had a weird nose ring. On his back, there was a black longbow made out of wood. Another two blades were sheathed at his waist.

The thief standing beside the ranger was more taciturn. A white mask covered his entire face, and his black caped clothes made him stand out like a sore thumb in this infinite white space. He remained half-squatted, quietly staring at the five.

Standing in the middle was a very sexy female. She seemed to be around twenty over years of age. She held the same golden shield as Anne and had colorful hair which was exceptionally strange. Not only that, she had black earphones in both of her ears as though she was listening to something.

Compared to the three of them who seemed to have a certain spunk, the remaining two were less eye-catching.

The female mage standing opposite Marlene seemed to be the same age as her. She was equipped with a decent blue gown and a staff. A young and inexperienced looking face displayed a sense of kindness. She also had a lively smile, and anyone who met her for the first time would probably think well of her.

As for Lize's opponent, it left her at her wits' ends. Because standing in front of her, was a little girl who could even possibly be younger than Christie. She placed both hands on her hips and stared proudly at Lize. Even though she was obviously smaller and younger than Lize, she had an attitude of a lady boss... which left Lize not knowing how to react.

We finally meet again...

All sorts of feeling welled up in Rhode's heart when he saw these people again. His gaze was warm as he felt the reminiscent sentiments bubbling inside him.

Driss, Blade King, Hot Cigarette Chick, Canary, and Mini Bubble Gum.

The five of them were once the core forces of Starlight Guild and were Rhode's friends. He thought that he would never have the chance to meet them again, but never did he expect to be reunited in this manner.

However, Rhode was clear that the five of them was only a projection from his memories and they didn't have any self-awareness nor soul. Just an empty shell.

But Rhode quickly recovered from his nostalgia. He pointed towards the five adventurers and spoke to the rest, "They are your opponents. 1 versus 1. Let me see what you got."

Rhode said with a smiling expression.

"I hope that all of you wouldn't lose too badly."