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727 Pre-War Scouting

 Darkness and light enveloped the entire world.

Rhode looked up at the sky engulfed in darkness in the near distance. Darkness and light were separated distinctively as though an invisible barrier had divided them. Even though they were only a barrier apart, the scenery was entirely different.

At that moment, he heard footsteps on the thick layer of snow. He turned around and saw Celestina approaching him grudgingly. She had put on a relatively lightweight costume, but was as luxurious as usual. Apart from that, a thick, plush cape also draped over her shoulders and hung behind her. She appeared a little pale and upon detecting Rhode's gaze, she glared fiercely. But Rhode shrugged and turned his gaze away as she looked as though she was putting up a deceptive show of strength. Celestina gritted her teeth and let out a sneer of disdain. Of course, Rhode acted like he didn't hear it.

After the meeting, everyone had reached a consensus that the scouts must be sent. But there were controversies on the candidates. In the end, Rhode expressed that he would be responsible, which triggered several disagreements. No matter what, Rhode was the commander and overlord of this fortress and it was too risky. The consequences were unimaginable if he failed. Not only Marlene, but Lize and the others also objected. Bayer thought that Rhode was overly adventurous and was risking the fate of the fortress. As soon as Rhode was discovered and killed, everything would be over. Of course, not everyone objected, such as Anne who chimed in with Rhode, but the latter knew that she simply wanted to join him in the adventure.

Randolf and Joey naturally disagreed with Rhode's suggestion because they understood the dangers as scouts. They raised their opinions which involved dispatching scouts who weren't familiar with the fortress situation and carry self-destructing magical tools. If things went south, the scouts could ignite the tools and explode themselves. However, some of the scouts guaranteed that they wouldn't be discovered and would instantly return to the fortress using the 'Return Ring' as soon as there were any problems.

Rhode didn't reject their suggestions. Instead, he crossed his arms and waited for everyone to express their thoughts.

\"I don't underestimate your courage and loyalty. I also think that you are capable. But I will need to handle this myself because there is something that none of you can do.\"

\"What is it, Sir?\"

Joey asked curiously. Rhode heard the dissatisfaction in his tone and swept him a casual look.

\"Even if you see them, do you know what kind of troops they are?\"

\"...\"

Everyone looked at one another guiltily because Rhode's words had hit their weak spots. Indeed, Rhode was much more experienced in knowledge regarding the Undead Creatures. In fact, everyone learned about the Undead Creatures from Rhode, as it was a taboo for scouts because even among humans, the slightest difference in details on the soldiers could affect the outcome of the entire battle. This was also why scouts were mainly experienced veterans who wouldn't confuse between the Flame Knights and Crimson Infantries.

Even though Marlene and Serena had knowledge about Undead Creatures, it was two different matters between illustrations and actual presences. They wouldn't detect the exact differences between Skeleton Soldiers and Skeleton Guards even if they memorized everything inside out.

On the other hand, Sara was extremely familiar with them, but Rhode didn't send her. Even though her spirit was in his hands and he wasn't worried that she would betray him, he was aware that the Corpse Slaves of Liches mostly had magical crests on them. Although the Corpse Slaves wouldn't betray their masters, it wasn't surprising that they would be captured or kidnapped in the Country of Darkness. This was why the Liches planted magical crests on their Corpse Slaves. The Holy Maiden Statues' enchanted field over the fortress cut off the enemies' magical detection and as soon as Sara stepped out of the door... Haha. They would just have to wait for the Lich to find its way here using its GPS. Rhode had a counteractive plan for this. He could get Canary to wipe out the magical crest as soon as he found it. But the trouble was that even Sara wasn't aware of where the magical crest was and a detailed examination was required to find it. At least for now, Rhode didn't have the time to do it.

Finally, he had decided to head out alone and was confident. He had entered the Legendary Stage and with the four holy sword cards in his arsenal, there were a total of five legendary beings. It would be the Undead Army's wishful thinking if they thought they could hold him down. Besides, Rhode didn't need to sneak into their camp. He just needed to find a suitable location and summoning Madaras and Gracier would do-the Carlesdine's 'Stealth' skill didn't exist for nothing.

Rhode understood well that the skeleton creatures held valiant anti-detection abilities. In the early stages of the game, many players had suffered and due to the distinct differences between the living and dead, they emerged on the Necromancers' and Liches' 'radar' like shiny gems.

This led to players getting easily intercepted by the Undead Army, where dividing and encirclement were extremely common. Back then, many players were at their wits' end. They berated the game developers for being crazy, but bit their teeth for the sake of the rich remunerations. Humans always came up with ideas. After endless torture, the players thought of an idea to dodge the Undead Army's detection. Thereafter, the players had easy times investigating the Undead Army.

This was one of the reasons why Rhode brought Celestina along. He knew that the Undead Creatures' detection spell basically tracked for signs of life or kindness. He didn't think of himself as kind, but for the sake of safety, he sent Celestina out to be his scapegoat. This demon young lady was 100 percent in the evil camp and even her bloodline had assured it.

But, Rhode knew that this was merely an insurance and had another set of preparations ready.

\"What a magnificent tower.\"

Serena exclaimed in awe as she ascended the spotlessly white flight of stairs. Marlene, on the other hand, remained silent, but it was apparent from her expression that she agreed with Serena. After all, it was the dream of almost every Mages to own a Mage Tower. It wasn't as simple as just coalescing powers, but it also represented the Mage's glory and destiny.

Shortly after, both of them arrived at the vast hall on the highest floor of the tower. Picturesque scenes could be viewed in all directions. The chilly breeze blew, but instantly vanished as soon as they struck the magical barrier. They lifted their heads and saw the patterns representing the wind and fire elements on the semicircular dome. The entire hall looked unfrequented. Rhode couldn't be blamed because the simple decorations were all that he could afford for now. If he were to decorate them completely, he wouldn't be left with much money. If the cost of constructing the Holy Maiden Statues was ranked the third in his most spendings in this territory, the renovation of this Spell Tower would definitely be the first. In fact, the constructions of simple walls and exquisite decorations wasn't expensive. It was the magic botanical garden, various alchemy and magical devices, defense enchanted field, Mithril Library and such that were the most costly.

\"You're here.\"

Canary stood in the middle and turned to the two young ladies with a smile. Marlene nodded in response while Serena stood nervously in attention. She frantically presented a solemn, Mage bow.

\"G-Greetings, Mage Canary. It... It is my honor to be invited to your Mage Tower. I'm Serena Kanders, an Elemental Mage from the Mage Association. I...\"

\"Relax, Serena.\"

Canary said gently. \"Don't be nervous. I'm about the same age as you. You can call me by my name just like Miss Marlene.\"

\"Yes... Miss Canary.\" Serena said in a trembling voice, but Canary's peaceful tone calmed her down.

Serena lifted her head and scanned the young lady curiously. Indeed, she appeared like her age. But there was an obvious difference between them: the surging wave of magical powers in the Peak Inner Circle.

Serena had heard the rumors about Canary before arriving at the Land of Atonement. But she didn't take them seriously. She was the up and rising star of the Mage Association. Even though she wasn't as outstanding as Marlene, she also held the pride and confidence that an impressive star should have. She believed that the rumors were exaggerated. She knew how challenging it was for ordinary humans to break through the barriers and enter the Inner Circle. Even though Marlene was more talented than her, wasn't she only in the Middle Circle? If someone that young defied the rules and transcended into the Inner Circle, why didn't she heard of it before?

After arriving at Land of Atonement, Canary had been busy with the Mage Tower construction. It was Serena's first time meeting Canary and Mini Bubble Gum during the meeting today.

But just this one time was enough.

Serena sensed the dense, over-the-charts energy exuding from Mini Bubble Gum and Canary and her world has as though crumbled entirely. What surprised her further was that Canary was a Self-taught Mage! Oh my goodness. Does logic exist at all?!

In that instant, Serena felt as though the title that she received in the Mage Association was not worthy at all. Standing before the true talent, she was nothing more than a beggar. Serena felt uncomfortable as her previous contempt and newly-gained reverence toward her were mashed together.

Marlene let out a chuckle. She knew what was going through Serena's mind. In fact, Marlene also held such thoughts about Canary when they first met. Besides, Rhode was dragged into their relationship which made things even more complicated. But she had gotten used to it as time passed. She realized that there was nothing she couldn't accept as long as she had an open mind.

\"Rhode has reached the borders and it's up to us next.\"

Canary beckoned to Marlene and Serena. They weren't here to simply observe the Mage Tower. Instead, they were assisting Canary in casting detection spells. Mages could use this spell like activating the satellite radar, which could explore other areas. But it wouldn't be effective on areas with stronger magical spell resistance. In fact, Canary had also detected numerous occasions when the enemies investigated their territory. But there was a limit to the undead's detection spell, after all, and under the Holy Maiden Statues' enchanted field, Canary easily shattered them. And now, Canary had decided to respond in kind.

\"I need both of your powers. Please stand here.\"

Canary pointed. Marlene and Serena spotted the silver-whitish ritual triangle emanating a faint, glorious radiance. There were circles on the three pointed edges, which were for their positions. Apart from this, there was also the most glaring eye symbol in the middle and circular, mysterious runes hovering around it. Serena shrieked in astonishment.

\"T-This is the Occult Field?\"

\"That's right.\"

Canary nodded without any changes in her expression. Serena was overwhelmed. She knew clearly that the Occult Field was an ancient, combined spell used by Mages. It could perfectly merge all the Mages' powers involved and the might would be much stronger than an ordinary spell. But Serena was also aware that the Occult Field had vanished in history after the Creation War. The Grand Mages in the Mage Association had spent centuries and only recovered one-tenth of it. If Serena wasn't fortunate enough to become one of the Grand Mage's disciples and saw data regarding the Occult Field, perhaps she wouldn't have imagined seeing a perfect Occult Field here!

Serena was sure that if she told this matter to her teacher, perhaps her teacher and the other Grand Mages would flock their way here to see it even if the end of the world was before them. But...

\"B-But, Miss. Canary, the activation of the Occult Field should require 12 members if I recall correctly...\"

\"We don't need that strong of a spell at the moment. Besides, we don't have enough manpower too. This is why I've simplified it, so the three of us will be enough.\"

Simplified it...

Serena was rooted in her place.

Shortly after, the three young ladies stood in their positions while facing the triangle. Serena was nervous. Marlene put up a solemn expression while Canary maintained her smile.

\"Don't worry, I will use my powers as a guide. The eyes of the storm will be used to detect secrets. The powers of the flames will be used to maintain defense. Miss Marlene, you'll be in charge of the earth protection. Miss. Serena, I'll leave the snow protection to you.\"

\"Y-Yes...! Miss Canary!\"

Serena responded hurriedly as though a student called out by her form teacher. Then, she realized that she was behaving overly nervous. She shook her head before nodding firmly.

\"Leave it to me, Miss Canary.\"

\"Alright then, let's begin.\"

Canary raised her arms forward and the other two young ladies followed suit. They chanted in harmony and shortly after, a whizzing snow storm emerged in the magic image displayed before them.

The strong snow storm whistled.

Canary opened her eyes. The snowy scene as though taken from an aerial camera slowly advanced forward, which they eventually entered the pitch-black territory.

\"Argh...\"

Serena gritted her teeth. Even though she was only responsible for casting a snow spell to conceal the presence of magic to prevent enemy detection, she instantly felt an evil, dark energy after they crossed the Country of Darkness' border. The ice-cold chills numbed her fingertips.

Light turned into darkness.

In the blink of an eye, an endless sea of Undead Creatures emerged and filled the entire magic image. Canary twitched her brow while Marlene and Serena held their breaths. This was the first time that they witnessed that many Undead Creatures so clearly. Gazing at this scene alone was enough to leave them in a sense of despair.

Fortunately for them, this scene only lasted for a few seconds as the scene in the magic image moved forward. But it became distorted out of a sudden.

\"They detected our presence!\"

Serena sensed dark energy piercing through her snowstorm and aiming for their source of power. However, the dark energy crashed onto Marlene's defense barrier. Marlene instantly turned pale to the immense strength. She ground her teeth and the magical radiance emanating on her hands shimmered increasingly brighter. Canary didn't give up. She swiped her right hand and the scene before them instantly spun 180 degrees to scan the situation. Then, pitch-black flames emerged.

\"Move back!\"

Canary commanded and the other two young ladies stepped back hurriedly. The surging, powerful dark energy erupted from the magical image. But at this moment, Canary released a dazzling brilliance from her right hand and instantly subdued it.

\"Phew...\"

Canary clapped the dust off her hands and let out a sigh of relief.

\"We've confirmed the enemy's specific location and destroyed their detection barrier. We'll have to leave it to Rhode next...\"

Canary gazed at Marlene and Serena with a smile.

\"Alright. Time for some tea.\"