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411 Hard Beginnings

 The unfrequented fortress turned lively instantly with the arrival of everyone. Although the fortress wasn't overcrowded yet, it was still better than the sad emptiness. Meanwhile, the most troublesome part finally came.

Many matters were the hardest to deal with at the stage of establishment. In future, not only did Rhode need to handle various matters in the fortress, he had to spend time meeting the members of the Church, Trade Association, and others to discuss future developments. Although their contracts had been drawn in black and white, some conditions might change along with shifts in the environment. It would only be considered the start of a collaboration after both sides reached an agreement.

Firstly, the most problematic issue was regarding the Church. Although Mini Bubble Gum had agreed to teach the Clerics battle skills, she had no intentions of unveiling her tips and experiences in the 'treating foes as friends' tactic. Shortly after, frictions were developed between both parties. From the start, Mini Bubble Gum was still willing to teach some conventional battle techniques which didn't involve the core technical levels. However, Lilia was hoping to receive teachings regarding the 'treating foes as friends' tactic. In the end, Mini Bubble Gum threw tantrums and even suspected that these Church Emissaries harbored malicious intentions to acquire her 'cheat code'. If not, why would these people keep targeting her special skill? What intentions did they have?

Rhode stepped up to handle this controversy. Firstly, he appeased Mini Bubble Gum and personally found Lilia for a chat. Although Mini Bubble Gum was too harsh in her words, her suspicions weren't unreasonable. The 'treating foes as friends' tactic was a PK method, but, it wasn't just a PK method. Apart from this tactic, the 'Turbulence' and 'Blood Enrichment' tactics were also considered common battle techniques for Clerics. So, wouldn't these two tactics be enough for battles?

Lilia gave her honest reply to Rhode that Mini Bubble Gum was insecure about Lilia. However, as a matter of fact, Lilia was worried about herself too. After all, there wasn't any systematic knowledge regarding the battle styles for Clerics throughout these years of the Church. The only time they witnessed the battle style was during the Midsummer Festival when Lize displayed the 'treating foes as friends' tactic. Therefore, this tactic became the most practical and effective in the minds of the Church, and at the same time, it had proved positive results for them. However, Mini Bubble Gum had intended to teach them an entirely different tactic which wasn't similar to what Lilia had understood from the Church. As a Church emissary, Lilia didn't know how to react to Mini Bubble Gum's disapproval. Furthermore, Lilia couldn't understand a single thing regarding battle techniques of Clerics and didn't know that the 'treating foes as friends' tactic involved core technical levels invented by Mini Bubble Gum. This was why she didn't expect that Mini Bubble Gum would rebel over this.

In the end, Mini Bubble Gum agreed to teach the Church Emissaries superficial knowledge regarding 'treating foes as friends' and the 'Turbulent' battle style after Rhode's guidance. After all, 'treating foes as friends' seemed simple, but it had high requirements for techniques and micro-controls. Before the arrival of the Church Clerics, only Lize amongst the Clerics in Starlight was able to learn the 'treating foes as friends' tactic. This showed how demanding this technique needed micro-control to be.

Without a doubt, Rhode didn't inform Lilia that the 'treating foes as friends' tactic was considered a core skill for Clerics. Instead, he arranged for Mini Bubble Gum to instruct Lilia for a while, before revealing that this battle technique required high standards of individual battle attainments. As for most of the Clerics, it was tough for them to reach this standard in a short period of time. Not only would this waste their time, they wouldn't see the desired results too. On the other hand, 'Turbulent' would be much easier to pick up, and moreover, this tactic had significant effects and could be considered a decent replacement.

After Lilia personally experienced the difficulties of the technique, she finally gave up her thoughts and agreed to report this matter to the Church for their decision. As long as the technique could help in battles and Mini Bubble Gum was willing to teach it, Lilia would learn anything. After all, she was the student and Mini Bubble Gum was the teacher. After the Church lowered their stance on this matter, the negotiations of both parties finally proceeded smoothly. The Clerics would begin a series of basic training to enhance their battle techniques before Mini Bubble Gum would decide the continuation for the next step of technique teaching.

After resolving the conflict between the Church and Mini Bubble Gum, Rhode attended to the dispute between Matt's Trade Association and the Keller Family. As a citizen of Paphield, Matt knew the Land of Atonement was filled with an abundance of minerals and he hoped to capture a piece of the pie. However, the Keller Family had to stay responsible for their family business strictly. Previously, Keller and Rhode had agreed to a 7/3 split which was a major concession to them. In exchange, they sought for exclusive mining rights in the Land of Atonement. Even though Keller Family wasn't mindful of Matt's request because they understood that the Silver Libra Trade Association engaged in numerous transactions in goods and weren't solely dealing with ores, they were worried that their business specializing in ore transactions would sustain losses if they couldn't obtain their exclusive mining rights.

Currently, Matt didn't have the manpower to mine ores. However, as a merchant, he always planned ahead. If Keller Family gained the exclusive mining rights, all the future mines of this territory would also belong to them. How could this be allowed? Although the Silver Libra Trade Association wasn't this capable, who can guarantee that they wouldn't be capable in the future? How can he sit idly and watch his people suffer while the Keller Family raked in gold coins? Their Trade Association was collaborating with Starlight, and he believed that the Keller Family shouldn't be this cruel to a collaborator.

Rhode had a headache with this conflict for a few days, and he finally came up with a solution. Keller Family would gain the exclusive mining rights in the Land of Atonement only for the first two years. However, from the third year onwards, the exclusive mining rights would be converted to priority mining rights. And, after five years, the special treatment for Keller Family would be entirely abolished while making the Land of Atonement open to the public. Of course, to prevent Keller Family from crazy excavations and explorations within their exclusive two years, Rhode had warned that if he discovered any destructive mining behavior, their contract would be terminated immediately. At the same time, the Keller Family would be driven out of the Land of Atonement for breaching their contract.

Matt was content with the terms because it guaranteed his future profits. Although the representative of Keller Family wasn't satisfied with this arrangement, Rhode had given them enough respect. Furthermore, even though the Keller Family was influential in Paphield, Rhode didn't rely much on them in the first place. However, if the Keller Family chose to acquiesce after having refused Rhode's first overture, Rhode wouldn't mind letting them suffer for it. As a result, the patriarch of Keller Family agreed to the conditions and both sides took a step back. Rhode extended the Keller Family's exclusive mining rights to three years and as a restriction, the number of mines they could own would be limited from two to one. If Keller Family held two mines in the Land of Atonement, Rhode could approve of a mining plan for any other trade association. For the approval of mines, only up to two mines would be approved per year. In other words, even if the Keller Family planned to expand their mining business massively, it would be impossible for them to mine all the ores in the Land of Atonement. Not to mention, if they were to open two mines every year, their name wouldn't be on the list in the third year.

Finally, after sending off Matt and the representative of the Keller Family, Rhode had to meet the villagers from Deep Creek Village. According to Vinny, most of the villagers wished to move into the fortress. However, there were also some who couldn't bear to leave their homes. So Vinny was hoping that Rhode could come up with a good solution to resolve this problem.

Rhode privately discussed with Lize, Marlene, and the rest in a few days and finally came up with a proposal. Rhode was willing to accept those villagers who wished to live in the fortress, and they would be assigned jobs as contributions. After all, the fortress was gigantic and there had to be people who could cook, do laundry, and maintain the area. With these villagers, things would more or less be much more convenient.

However, at the same time, Rhode told Vinny that the villagers wouldn't need to abandon their village because Rhode had planned to renovate the path. Deep Creek Village would become an outpost for the fortress in the Land of Atonement. The outpost would be responsible for passing information and conducting inspections on behalf of the fortress. Without a doubt, Deep Creek Village itself would also require a remake. However, as the village was located out of Rhode's territory, he could only rely on manpower to finish the renovations. Apart from these matters, the duties, training schedules, and formalized measures of mercenaries in Starlight would be negotiated and determined by Rhode.

"Hu..."

Laying the feather pen on the table, Rhode rubbed his forehead as he leaned against the chair. All this workloads had left him in a fatigue. Even in the game, Rhode didn't need to trouble over so many matters. After all, constructions and investments were relatively simple, and as long as he made a decision, the NPCs would follow suit. However, reality wasn't as convenient. Other than the need to consider balancing favors towards various forces, Rhode also needed to guarantee that there wouldn't be dissatisfactions and complaints. At the same time, he needed to ensure his position and status as a guild leader was safe, and all these required a lot of skills and attention. Although Rhode could rely on his experience in leading the in-game guild to judge player disputes, there were some other matters...

Knock knock knock. Marlene opened the door and entered the room. She approached Rhode and placed a report on the table.

"Rhode, this is the plan for the internal supervising and defense mechanism of the fortress. Let me know if I need to amend anything."

"Okay, Marlene. Leave it there. I'll take a look later."

Rhode nodded at Marlene after glancing at the report. It was all thanks to Marlene that a complicated affair could be processed within the shortest time. Rhode's governance experience came from the self-taught talents in the game and could be considered as an unorthodox method from head to tail. However, as the heir of the Senia Family, Marlene had been groomed to study the elites. Perhaps her experience might not be as rich as Rhode's, however, her detailed knowledge and orthodox learning were unmatchable by him. Just like this defense plan, Rhode would be in big trouble if Marlene didn't manage it on his behalf.

"You must be tired. Do you want to take a break?"

Marlene asked softly with uncertainty as she observed Rhode's expression. After that night, their relationship had a slight change. Not only did they change the way they called each other, even their attitudes became much more intimate. Without a doubt, as both of them didn't have outgoing personalities, their affections didn't attract too much attention. After that lustful night, Marlene had untied the knot in her heart entirely. She had returned to her graceful, polite self and was no longer dazed in the presence of Rhode.

Such transformation was seen in Lize's eyes. The maiden had curiously asked Marlene whether anything happened recently, and Marlene didn't reveal the truth. She only confessed that she had some troubles and Rhode helped her resolve them. From a certain perspective, this explanation couldn't actually be considered wrong.

"I will rest in a while."

Rhode shook his head at Marlene's persuasion and he sat right up again. Because of the delay in these affairs, the fortress would need at least half a month before getting back on track entirely. Time was getting less and less and he needed to begin the training of the mercenaries quickly in order to prepare themselves for the challenges of the 5 Star missions. It was better to be tired now than to regret in the future, right?

Rhode heaved a long sigh before pushing over an object towards Marlene.

"What's this?"

Marlene picked up the map dubiously. The map illustrated the Land of Atonement and there were about four to five markings on certain areas. Those markings were distributed on all corners of the Land of Atonement.

"These are the distorted points of the Land of Atonement. I guess, you as a Mage should know that the Land of Atonement is near the edge of the area with the natural force of order. Due to the weak force of order, these distorted points are formed. In these places, there are dangers. However, the dangers shouldn't be too threatening. After I leave, I hope you can arrange the mercenaries for a trip to these distorted points for practical training. Not only can we remove these distorted points, we can also stabilize the natural force of order within the Land of Atonement. On the other hand, the strength and camaraderie of the mercenaries would improve through these practical training. Don't worry about the losses, because I have spoken to Canary and Mini Bubble Gum to provide assistance when required."

"No problem."

Marlene nodded and kept the map into the fold of her clothes. And at this moment, the young lady suddenly blushed.

"Erm... Rhode, when do you intend to leave?"

"I will immediately leave after the matters regarding the fortress have stabilized. Probably in two to three days' time."

"So... Erm..."

Marlene lowered her head in silence as she rubbed her fingers against her clothes. Rhode seemed to figure out Marlene's thoughts through her expression. He stood up and leaned in towards her ear.

"I think, you must've locked the doors, right?"