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619 Strong Expansion

 Marlene's return was a total surprise for Rhode. He never expected that Marlene would return to the Guild with him. Of course, Marlene didn't explain the details over this stunt. However, he was sure that this had some hidden meaning. But since Marlene could return to his side, it was naturally a great thing for him and he welcomed her with open arms. However, this wasn't the only surprise she had for him.

"Who are they?"

Rhode twitched his brows as he gazed at the over 30 young adults clad in Mage robes. Most of them were female with only two to three male among them. Judging from their appearance, they seemed to be about the same age as Marlene, all youthful and energetic. Marlene revealed a grin.

"They're all your men, Rhode."

"My men?"

Rhode was slightly taken aback. Then, he understood the whole sequence of events from her. They were her schoolmates in the Mage School.

As the largest magical sacred ground in the Munn Kingdom, the Mage School had always occupied a high position in the hearts of the large noble families. Not only was the school in charge of teaching Mages, it was also responsible for cultivating the elite talents of noble families. Therefore, the school was mainly filled with students from large noble families like Marlene. However, even though some of the students didn't have as grand identities, they were still allowed to enroll. But talented students could be admitted into the school for free while ordinary students had to pay a considerable price. Due to the school's special features, many rich merchants enrolled their children and their intentions weren't solely to educate their children into becoming formidable Mages. Instead, they sought opportunities to widen their social network and get in contact with heirs of large noble families in order to squeeze their way into the upper class. Other groups of people hoped to enter the school to change their fates and become henchmen to nobles, who were much stronger than their parents.

As a well-known figure in the Mage School, Marlene had no lack of admirers. Before leaving Golden City, she specially returned to school and recruited over 20 trustworthy friends, including classmates and juniors. Although most nobles kept a respectful distance from Marlene after the celebratory banquet, these people didn't mind at all. They were born into poorer families without strong backing. Although they worked hard in school, they were rarely outstanding in the eyes of the nobles. After Marlene enticed them to head into the Land of Atonement, they were eager for their new journey because, after all, Rhode's name had been spreading in Golden City. They were glad to be able to work for a young noble with such a bright future.

Marlene had picked suitable candidates according to Rhode's requirements. They were mostly failed Mages, but they possessed decent results in academics, political economy, and alchemy. This was the only chance for them if they wished to rise in society. Being an official Mage required natural talents and this couldn't be forced. However, knowledge could be acquired through hard work and both nobles and civilians began from the same starting line. If civilians performed outstandingly and were favored by nobles, they could be hired as a financial affairs officer, which would be a lucrative job. As long as they worked harder, they would still have a chance to join the upper class. Even if the nobles weren't impressed by them, they could seek employment from various feudal lords using their academic background.

This was the gift Rhode needed the most currently. Its value far exceeded the Holy Cross Medal.

After all, Rhode most lacked manpower.

Although outsiders envied the rapid development of Starlight, they didn't know that this problem had been bugging Rhode's mind for a long time. Frankly speaking, he had underestimated the difficulties of properly building a Guild. He thought that it would be similar to how it was in the game, where he simply had to discuss with a few guild members in laying out a set of rules and adjust accordingly. Then, he realized that it was much more complicated than he had imagined.

There was one ultimate reason-the difference in educational level.

Rhode had neglected this important point. He had attained a high level of education from Earth, where even most players were either high school or university graduates. Of course, there were also players like Mini Bubble Gum who were in the second grade of secondary school. However, the education level and information communication of the Internet age on Earth was much more advanced than in the Dragon Soul Continent. Compared to players, his mercenaries were nothing more than a bunch of semi-illiterates! Most of them were only capable of reading and Rhode would thank his lucky stars if they could even write their names. There were several times when they couldn't understand the things that Rhode had come up with. Moreover, they only knew simple mathematics involving addition and subtraction with zero knowledge over multiplying and dividing. This didn't pose a serious problem in the past, but as Starlight Guild expanded, Rhode had the urge to flip whatever table was before him as he watched his mercenaries fail to do a simple headcount. This was why the operations of the Fortress had been affected. Although well and healthy mercenaries could be seen all around the Fortress, it was extremely tough to find one who had received high education and was literate!

The only ones who had met his requirements could be counted with two hands. Due to various reasons, Marlene, Lize, and Lapis could be considered talents who had received a high level of education. For some unknown reasons, Christie had been able to write and calculate. Shauna was once a mercenary group leader and she was capable of simple writing. In addition, there was also Old Walker and John Grayer, who had just joined. (He naturally had to be literate as a commander). There was a total of less than 10 members and it was conceivable how painful it would be for Rhode to manage that many members in the Fortress with them.

Frankly speaking, the educational level of the Munn Kingdom wasn't considered too low as it was unfair to compare it to where Rhode had come from. However, most civilians in cities were literate and capable of calculating. Rhode was partially to blame for choosing a bunch of uncouth mercenaries while expanding his mercenary group. There wasn't a single city in the Land of Atonement and most of the farmers that had arrived here were illiterate. Even though the merchants were astute, Rhode wouldn't be naive enough to allow them in managing his Fortress.

The people that Marlene brought to him could be considered critical help in a time of need. Not only were they able to resolve Lapis' manpower issues, but they could also help out in other areas. Rhode wasn't too concerned about their loyalty because they had clean family backgrounds which weren't related to other forces. Furthermore, it would be simple to nurture a sense of belonging in these young people who had just stepped out of the Mage School.

Rhode stepped forth.

Although this was the first time that they met him, it was difficult for them to not hear about his name in the Golden City. They tensed up as the man in the rumors approached them.

Rhode looked meaningfully them. Some young ladies cowered and hid behind their companions while some of them gazed curiously and cautiously. However, Rhode focused his attention on the three young men on the other side.

Marlene was a cautious person and she rarely mixed around with males in the Mage School and in noble circles because she knew of her unique identity. One careless error could be used against her. This was why she had always hung out with female friends and the presence of the three young men piqued his interest. Marlene had recommended them because she trusted them, which was very rare. This could also mean that there was something worthy of his attention in them.

The three young men wore ordinary-looking robes and appeared to be typical academic nerds: skinny and seemingly weak. However, this gave Rhode an unusual sense of closeness. After all, there were several such schoolmates in his university due to the exam-oriented education system, where everyone focused only on results and neglected their health conditions. Seven out of ten university students wore spectacles while the two wore contact lenses and the luckier one had perfect eyesight. Rhode didn't have a sturdy built to begin with, so he chose a contrasting, burly man in the game.

The three young men behaved uniquely different under his gaze.

One of the young men in thick-framed glasses smiled at Rhode shyly while hugging a thick, heavy book in his arms. Then, he scratched his unkempt hair and lowered his shifty gaze to the ground. On the other hand, the brown-haired young man beside him bowed respectfully while the third young man standing on the far right stuck out his chest bravely and exchanged glances with Rhode for a few moments. Then, he lowered his gaze instinctively after losing to Rhode's stare. He lifted his head again as though he had realized something, but Rhode had turned his attention away from him.

"What an amusing trio."

Rhode had figured out their personalities even though their interactions took only a couple of seconds. This forced a twitch to his brow and he turned to Marlene.

"How did you manage to get them here?"

"They used to be a popular trio in the Mage School. Although their magical talents aren't outstanding, they were still capable of passing tests. I've suspected that they were cheating from the start. Even the school carried out investigations and they discovered that the trio indeed has some tricks up their sleeves... However, they were only given stern warnings as what they did was still within the rules. There is something special about them and although they aren't formidable in terms of magic, I think you don't need them to be some excellent Mages, right?"

Rhode nodded and turned to the group.

"I guess all of you knows who I am, but I should formally introduce myself. I'm Rhode Alander, the overlord of Grenbell, an Earl, and the guild leader of Starlight. I trust Marlene's judgment that you'll surely be capable of accomplishing the missions and duties that I'll assign in the future. But I have to make it clear that Grenbell isn't a flourishing territory and the dangers and hardships will be unlike those in Golden City. If any of you are afraid, this is your last chance to leave."

The group stared blankly. They had never seen an overlord, who was also a noble, making such bold statements. In an instant, a few of the young ladies were stricken into silence and they glanced left and right before facing Marlene. It was apparent that Rhode's words had frightened them, but on the contrary, the three young men appeared calm as they stood quietly without speaking a word.

In the end, none of them chose to leave. They didn't have superior identities and backgrounds and it was necessary for them to bear hardships if they wished to stand out among their peers. Although Rhode informed them of the potential risks, they knew that being timid and unadventurous would bring them nothing.

They knew that this was their only chance to change their lives. Rhode promised the group that as long as they performed well, they could become his henchmen. Moreover, there was a chance for them to receive generous rewards, which instantly pumped them up. They knew that Grenbell was a new territory and even though Rhode told them about the potential dangers, they treated it as a great opportunity. If they could seize the chance and succeed, they could change their lives forever.

Thereafter, Rhode led Marlene, Lize, Anne, and the newcomers into the Fortress.

Rhode had to manage several matters after returning to the Fortress. The main priority was to divide the management level. He used to be only the guild leader of Starlight and the Land of Atonement was his only territory. However, it was different now. He had become the overlord of Grenbell and managing a territory was different from managing mercenaries. In the past, he would make use of any human resources available. But now, he had sufficient manpower and naturally had to divide them into different management levels. Of course, he wouldn't divide them immediately because Grenbell didn't require too much attention at the moment. However, it was necessary to establish new processes in order for the newbies to accumulate a certain amount of EXP in the Land of Atonement. This would make it much easier for him after they had expanded in the future. If he used the methods of managing mercenaries to manage territories, there would surely be chaos.

After having a discussion with Marlene, Rhode had decided to divide the management levels into three divisions. They would be responsible for the internal affairs for the territory, management of the mercenaries, and management of his private soldiers. Apart from the newly joined Alchemists in the group of young people who were handed over to Lapis, the others would be responsible for internal affairs under Marlene. Lize would be responsible for looking after the mercenaries and she would be assisted by Mini Bubble Gum and Canary. Judging from this, the difference between mercenaries and ordinary civilians were apparent. Civilians mostly wouldn't have any psychological conflicts as long as one's identity and status was known. On the contrary, the mercenaries would only accept those who were reputable, powerful, and willing to brave through fire and water with them. Therefore, it was most probable that the powerless school members who just joined the Guild would be overthrown if Rhode were to appoint them in managing the mercenaries. The private soldiers, on the other hand, would be managed by John temporarily because they were only a small group of cavalrymen and were still miles away from the other nobles' private soldiers. Of course, Rhode was still the final decision maker. Whenever he wasn't around, Marlene would take over his duties and if she wasn't around, Canary would step in.

Of course, specific details would be left for Marlene and her subordinates to ponder over before making a decision. Rhode wouldn't be meddling with their decisions either because he had more important things to handle. On the second day after returning to the Fortress, Rhode called for Mini Bubble Gum and Canary to his study room.

"Rhode, is anything the matter?"

"What's wrong, Leader?"

The two young ladies asked curiously as soon as they entered the room. But instead of replying instantly, he gestured for them to take a seat and proceeded to stroke the feather pen in his hand swiftly across a parchment. Shortly after, Agatha drifted across the room and served piping hot red tea. The two young ladies exchanged looks with each other and shrugged helplessly, sipping on the fragrant tea carefully. After a few moments, Rhode laid down the feather pen and looked at them with an emotionless face. Then, he lifted the parchment to their eye level.

Pfff!

Canary showed a rare side of her as she burst into laughter. On the other hand, Mini Bubble Gum spurted out a mouthful of tea and hugged her tummy as she tumbled to the ground and rolled exaggeratedly.

"Leader, you're too talented! I can't take it anymore... Hahaha! I really give in to you... Hahahaha!"

Rhode remain unmoved as he looked at them with his poker face. On the parchment was a line of bold, striking text.

'Newbie looking to leech off pros in the monastery'