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261 Second Joint Conference

 Mercenary Joint Conference.

Many mercenary group leaders were tense because they knew the Mercenary Joint Conference was only be held when there were important matters to address. Everyone knew the reason for the previous meeting, but what was it going to be this time? Could it be that something had happened? Or someone among them had broken the rules?

Most of the mercenary group leaders didn't immediately respond to the invitation. Instead, they swiftly checked on their mercenaries to make sure that they didn't commit any punishable acts before returning to Deep Stone City for this second Mercenary Joint Conference.

Although they weren't sure what exactly was going on, the mercenary group leaders let out inward sighs of relief after seeing the smile on Sereck's and the elderly president's faces. Fortunately, the situation wasn't as bad as they had imagined. If not, both of them wouldn't be able to force out a smile.

However, even though they were relieved, the mercenary group leaders were getting more curious. Since there was nothing wrong, could it be that it was regarding some good news? But, what was worth celebrating over that required everyone to be here?

"It seems that everyone is here."

The elderly president sensed the curiosity in everyone, but even so, he didn't get right into the main topic. Instead, he glanced at everyone with a smile. "Recently, your mercenary groups have been growing strong and we, the Mercenary Association, are glad. After suffering through the tough times, all of you didn't give up... This should be the spirit of mercenary groups. We can fail, but we cannot give up. Of course, the Mercenary Association is also aware that many mercenary groups are in the recovery phase so if there is anything we can help with, please feel free to look for us. As long as its within our capabilities, we will definitely try our best."

After hearing the elderly president's declaration, all of the leaders were grateful. However, they felt that this conference wasn't all about this. Could it be that the Mercenary Association required their support for some matters?

Then, the elderly president answered their doubts.

"I know, regarding this Mercenary Joint Conference, everyone must have your doubts. Since that's the case, I won't beat about the bush anymore... I'm sure everyone knows that the Midsummer Festival is going to start soon. We, Paphield, couldn't find a guild to participate due to various reasons. In fact, the 4 largest guilds had suggested to us to strip Paphield from the guild nomination list."

What?!

The leaders jumped from their seats. It was a bolt from the blue for them. Indeed, everyone knew the current situation of the mercenary groups in Paphield. With the region's name in the guild list, at least they had a goal to look forward to. But now, there were plans to remove Paphield from the guild nomination list? If that was the case, what was the purpose for the mercenary groups to work hard?

Guilds weren't merely a representation of the mercenary forces of the region, but also the pride of all mercenaries. If they removed Paphield from the guild nomination list, that would mean no mercenaries in Paphield could lift their heads up high forever! Who could tolerate this? No one! Nobody!

The leaders were all agitated after hearing the elderly president's words. Instantly, most of them stood up and rebelled. Even though the previous compliments from the elderly president were to bait them into agreeing with this matter, how was this possible?! This concerned all the mercenaries' pride in this region! How can they do as they deemed fit?!

"Everyone, please calm down! Calm down!"

The elderly president had expected such reactions. He calmly tapped the table with his hammer. Then, he let out a cough.

"Of course, the Mercenary Association didn't agree to this suggestion, but... undeniably, the current conditions of Paphield are indeed troublesome..."

Many of the leaders turned to Hiller as they knew what this experienced mercenary group leader meant.

In fact, Hiller's Burning Blade mercenary group was partly responsible for the current terrible state of the mercenary groups in Paphield. From the start, the Burning Blade was the most respected mercenary group, about to be promoted to guild status. When the Burning Blade failed, not many mercenaries were too mindful as they felt that the Burning Blade was only down on their luck. If strong individuals joined them, they would perhaps be strong enough to turn into a guild in future.

Harboring such thoughts, many powerful mercenaries joined the Burning Blade and hoped for instant success after becoming members of a guild.

But, as a matter of events, the ups and downs of Burning Blade weren't mainly due to the mercenaries. Instead, it was due to their leader.

Hiller wasn't experienced enough to lead a guild, and that was why the Burning Blade had been suffering. Until now, the mercenary groups in Paphield lost their weight as Burning Blade recruited the strongest mercenaries, which directly impacted the smaller mercenary groups. The Burning Blade rose in strength, but even so, they were still unable to be promoted to guild status.

This also directly affected other mercenary groups as they didn't have enough members to aim for the number one spot. Yet at the same time, the Burning Blade who had always been on top wasn't performing well enough, which caused the mercenary forces within Paphield Region to be weaker than other regions. Other regions had guilds overseeing situations, and mercenary groups had virtuous cycles in battling each other. On the contrary, the mercenaries were more dead than alive here. Due to this reason, it wasn't actually a justifiable excuse for the 4 largest guilds to remove Paphield from the guild nomination list.

Hiller let out an awkward cough and remained quiet. He knew that this matter was related to him, but he chose to not comment.

"... and, because of this, the Mercenary Association suggested a condition."

At this moment, the elderly president spoke.

"According to the association's decision, we have chosen a mercenary group to represent Paphieldin the Midsummer Festival battles! Besides, if they perform well in this festival, they will be promoted as a guild! Our association has decided to appoint Mr. Rhode's Starlight to represent Paphield in participating in this Midsummer Festival!"

Everyone was shell-shocked.

"This isn't fair!"

Soon enough, some immediately stood up and shouted.

"There's a total of 32 mercenary groups in Paphield, so why would a mercenary group that was only formed less than half a year represent us? If this news gets out, we would be laughing stocks!"

"That's right, there's so many other mercenary groups available. Besides, why not appoint Burning Blade instead?"

"Silence!!"

The elderly president once again smashed his hammer and continued to speak after everyone calmed down.

"Before announcing this, we had once inquired with Mr. Hiller, but he rejected our proposal because he felt his mercenary group wasn't powerful enough. As for appointing Starlight, it was due to their powerful forces. As all of you have seen, Starlight is currently ranked 1st and wasn't affected by the calamities. They are considered the most fully equipped mercenary group in our region and besides, Mr. Rhode had no objections to this. So in the end, we decided to send Starlight to represent Paphield in the Midsummer Festival."

The leaders exchanged astonished looks with one another. Although they were unhappy with this decision, they had to admit that the elderly president's reasoning made sense. Currently, only Starlight was developing in the entire Paphield region.

But...

"It's not that we doubt the association's decision. Although we admit that Mr. Rhode is indeed formidable..."

At this moment, another leader stood up.

"I think everyone is also clear that the Midsummer Festival isn't about individual battles. It's no doubt that Mr. Rhode is formidable and there won't be any problem. But, we have logical reasons to doubt the members of Starlight and where they are capable of fulfilling the requirements."

"That's right. That's right."

"Yes, Mr. Rhode is great, but I don't think the members of his mercenary group are strong enough for the Midsummer Festival."

It was indeed so.

Rhode twitched his brows. Then, he noticed the elderly president's gaze.

It's time for my entrance.

Rhode stood to his feet.

In an instant, the rowdy crowd turned to Rhode.

"I understand all your concerns and it is true that the Midsummer Festival is strict and an extremely challenging. Just solely on my abilities, it would be impossible... I think all of you wouldn't believe it even if I say I believe in my men's abilities. So, I have a suggestion to solve this problem using the mercenary method."

"Using the mercenary method?"

The leaders questioned.

"Since no one believes that my men are capable enough, why not have every group send out its strongest member to have a competition? Treat it as a trial run for the Midsummer Festival. Each leader will send out a member and form teams to compete against me and Starlight. If Starlight wins, I hope everyone will recognise us in representing the Paphield region in the Midsummer Festival... Any objections?"

Competition?

The mercenary group leaders calmed down and thought through the suggestion. They realised that there weren't any loopholes in his proposal. Indeed, if they sent out their strongest member to compete against Starlight, there would be no doubts that Starlight was the strongest in Paphield if Starlight was victorious. Moreover, if Starlight was this strong, it wouldn't be an issue for them to represent Paphield.

"I agree."

Hiller was the first to respond, followed by Shawn.

Since both popular mercenary group leaders had already agreed to Rhode's suggestion, then the other mercenary group leaders had no reason to object. Besides, just as Rhode had mentioned, all the mercenaries wanted to be convinced of their real abilities.

But, what surprised them was that Rhode hadn't finish speaking yet.

"But since we will settle this dispute using the mercenary method, there must be a benefit in this... So, I have a suggestion. I will put up equipment as the bet for Starlight's victory. I hope the mercenary groups that are participating in this competition will put up an equally leveled equipment as a bet. If we lose, we will hand our equipment over. But, if we win..."

Rhode paused for a moment.

Everyone knew what he meant.

Shortly after, all the leaders agreed to the conditions. Finally, they sent out their respective representatives and formed teams of five. Thirty mercenary groups (there were originally 32, but with the Jade Tears destroyed and Starlight as a challenger, they weren't included) formed a total of six teams to participate in the competition. According to the rules, as long as Rhode was able to win the majority of the matches, the mercenary group leaders would recognise Starlight's qualifications.

The mercenary group leaders didn't object to Rhode's suggestion too.

It had to be said that the mercenaries indeed had adventurous blood flowing in their bones. Besides, every mercenary group only had to put up a single equipment, which wasn't a difficult task. This was why they weren't disputing over it and quickly nodded in agreement.

However, they didn't know that their equipment was the most important factor to Rhode.