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635 Genuine Menfolk

 Holy Sword-Star Mark.

The card spun above Rhode's palm. He shut his eyes and the quiet room had as though vanished into nothingness. The warm fireplace drifted away and an ice-cold breeze blew in its place. A collision of weapons could be heard from the distance and it slowly became louder and clearer to his ears. The solid ground beneath his feet turned into muddy water while the air was filled with the putrid smell of sulfur and blood...

Clink!

Rhode opened his eyes wide. The illusion around him disappeared abruptly. The cold touch of the solid, flat ground beneath his feet returned and the crackling firewood engulfed him in warmth once again. The sky gradually darkened and the snowfall became heavier.

I failed again.

Rhode shrugged and gazed helplessly at the card in his hand. Shortly after, the flawlessly white card vanished from his palm. He was currently level 50, but the system didn't reward him with any special rewards. In the game, a level 50 character wasn't worth any celebration because it was in the middle of nowhere. A level 40 and 60 player could transcend into the next stage while the level 50 was in an awkward position even for various dungeons. In the game, level 30, 50, and 70 were the tougher hurdles to cross because not only were there significantly fewer dungeons in the range of these levels, they were also uninteresting. In terms of strength enhancement, although level 50 was stronger than the Master Stage, it was still weaker than the Legendary Stage. All Rhode received was 10 Skill Points and nothing else.

Skill Points were forever insufficient for players, where even a thousand Skill points wouldn't satisfy them. As his skills and Talent Trees upgraded, the amount of Skill Points required for the upgrade also increased. Six of the 10 Skill Points were used to upgrade his mastery of the 'Fantasy Daybreak' Swordsmanship, increasing it to A grade while the remaining four Skill Points were pumped into the brand new [Source Tracing] talent in the fifth stage of the Talent Tree.

Rhode had never seen this skill in the game because it had emerged after the three Talent Trees merged together. [Source Tracing] wasn't a special active or passive skill. Instead, it only had one capability.

[Source Tracing: Touch the past of the soul and feel its historical mutters. Certain success rate to penetrate into the summoned being's memories and receive its memory fragments. Available once every 10 days. Success rate depends on the card level]

It was this introduction that made him pump all the remaining Skill Points into it because this allowed him to understand his Holy Sword Card Deck.

Rhode had confirmed that the strongest cards came from this deck. However, they were still in a state of being sealed. In other words, he had to use various methods to investigate their past before fully understanding their background and unleashing their true powers after unlocking their seal entirely. However, it wouldn't be a simple task. Every Holy Sword Spirit had their own will and opinion and Rhode couldn't possibly understand their past fully. But this skill would help him out a ton.

However, he had used the skill twice and failed both times. It seemed that the Holy Sword Card Deck's high level was indeed the key limiting factor. Although he had failed twice in a row, he almost figured out the operating conditions of this skill. It used his mental powers to infiltrate the memories of his spirits and view their entire history through their eyes. Perhaps it was due to their overly-high card level or that their lack of mutual understanding that he failed...

It seems like I can only take one step at a time.

Rhode sighed and stood to his feet. Coincidentally, someone knocked on his door.

"Mr. Rhode, Chairman Lauren wishes to inform you that the Winter Ceremony is about to start."

"Got it."

Rhode tidied his attire and responded with a smirk.

It's time to witness if you're a true man, Mr. Barter.

This ceremony organized by the Mercenary Association wasn't that grand. It could also be said to be in a wretched condition. A round table had been placed in the middle of the hall with all kinds of delicious food and alcohol. Chairman Lauren represented the association in making a few statements. He talked about the promotion and demotion of the mercenary groups and guilds and the problems between the mercenaries of the Munn Kingdom. The remaining time was given to mercenary group leaders and guild leaders to have conversations with one another.

However, Rhode instantly felt the unwelcome atmosphere targeting him as he entered the hall.

A group of chatty mercenary group leaders shut their mouths abruptly and gazed at the young man with vigilant and complicated glints. Rhode stood by the entrance and lifted his head to sweep a glance at the crowd nonchalantly. Then, he adjusted his lapels.

Although he didn't say anything, everyone sensed the aloof glint in his gaze, which left them shuddering and instinctively avoiding him. The attendants guided him to his seat. According to the rules, there should be 5 seats meant for the 5 biggest guilds in the Munn Kingdom. However, due to the predicament of the Sky Sword Guild and Liberty Wings Guild, only Starlight, Purple Lily, and Cole Falcon were left. Starlight's seat was placed between the two other guilds, which expressed the Mercenary Association's attitude toward them.

Viktor had arrived at the venue early and he stood up hurriedly to greet Rhode. Rhode bowed in response before taking his seat. The position for Purple Lily on his left was still empty.

"Mr. Barter isn't here yet?"

Rhode swept a glance to the side and said. Viktor revealed a bitter smile and spread his arms apart.

"Yes, Sir Rhode. That's strange. Barter used to love the bustling scene..."

Although Viktor didn't finish his sentence, both of them knew clearly the reason why Barter wasn't here.

Shortly after, the mood in the hall returned to its liveliness as no one stirred trouble with Rhode. Several mercenaries held cups of alcohol and spoke joyously. As every second passed, more and more people entered the hall and the atmosphere became much more enthusiastic. On the contrary, Rhode and Viktor were the only ones uninterested in socializing as they sat back on their chairs and gazed at the entrance in anticipation.

Finally, a burly, formidable figure emerged.

"-"

The air froze in an instant.

The mercenaries had as though been struck by a curse that bound their activities. They turned around and stared blankly. An uninvited guest.

An enormous, muscular man in a shirt the color of a pink ballerina skirt stood by the entrance. His shirt was so tightly stretched that it clearly revealed his muscles and six pack underneath. A large, white bow knot at the back of his waist fluttered wittily along with its owner's movements. The short skirt that covered only his upper thighs revealed two elephant-like thick, strong legs. The white stockings failed to conceal the mass dense of leg hair and at the bottom, a pair of scarlet, round-tipped leather shoes advertised his mighty presence.

Barter pulled a long face, stepping into the hall that had as though turned into an icehouse with his longsword behind his back. He blushed at everyone's gaze and let out a snort of disgust. At this moment, a burst of claps broke the uncomfortable silence.

"This is awesome, Mr. Barter. You're indeed a man."

Rhode leaned on his chair and gazed at Barter striding forward in large steps. Barter glared fiercely with an even more embarrassed face before plunging to his seat. Then, he turned to Rhode and lifted his chin proudly.

"That's for sure, kid. I'm a man, and a true man sticks to his words! Heh, kid, I hope you will still have the appetite to drink the alcohol that I'll pour for you later."

"I'm a man too, Mr. Barter."

Rhode narrowed his eyes slightly.

"Don't worry, as a man, I will never back down. But..."

Rhode scanned the beautiful, white lace ribbon around Barter's neck and his drifting head accessory.

"... It looks like you're having a great time in this costume."