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857 Under Starlights Flag

 The harsh winter was entirely over as spring spread to every corner of the continent and lush greenery filled the landscapes. The war was over and people had a fresh start to their lives. No matter how much they gained or lost in war, they had to continue living their lives.

During this period of time, Rhode's 'Land of Chaos exploration' had officially taken shape. After grinding for EXP in the Devil Gulf for half a month, not only did he reach level 65, but the Astral Temple also upgraded to level 2 with the selfless contributions of the Bow Knights. But it was a pity that there were only a total of 150 Bow Knights, so despite the Astral Temple reaching level 2, Rhode could only summon an additional 50 while the remaining options were ordinary Elf Knights, Rangers, or Mages... In the end, Rhode chose 50 Elf Rangers to complement the Bow Knights in battles. Initially, he thought of choosing the Elf Mages. Although they weren't as powerful as the Bow Knights, their lowest level was level 70 and it would be a steal if he copped 50 of them. But it was a pity that he knew how huge the influence the Land of Chaos had on magic spells. He didn't wish to have 50 unstable nuclear bombs that would explode randomly, which was why he eventually chose the Elf Rangers. Even though they were experts in long-range attacks, they were still capable of casting spells at a certain range. They also had unique techniques in terms of support and healing. Although they weren't as strong as the Elf Mages, he could only settle for second best at the moment.

As for the water elemental creatures and fire elemental creatures, he had no intention of bringing them along. The Land of Chaos held the largest influence over elemental creatures. After all, elemental creatures were beings gathered from pure elements, unlike beings with spiritual properties from the Astral Temple. There would be huge troubles if the strength of Chaos were to disrupt the pure elemental compositions in them. In the past, there were players who summoned elemental creatures in the Land of Chaos and they almost perished due to the influence of Chaos. Although it was definitely more worth it to summon elemental creatures than creatures from the Astral Temple, Rhode wished to be more cautious-moreover, his Order barrier couldn't contain that many people too.

However, Rhode also couldn't possibly bring along his summoning spirits. According to his experience in the Land of Chaos, Joey, Randolf, and John had chosen elites from their teams respectively to form an elite squad. But even so, the number of elites was too small and only made up a total of 60.

Rhode didn't intend to rely on ordinary human Rangers and Thieves to develop the Land of Chaos because this would be suicide even for players. What he valued was the biggest advantage he had right now.

"---!"

A dozen glaring rays streaked across the sky and a series of explosions sounded a few seconds later. The solid slab cracked and shattered in an instant with dust fluttering everywhere. Rhode crossed his arms while standing on the platform, knitting his brows and gazing at his armored men. Apart from the biggest strength from the Astral Temple in this 'Exploration Team', he could also rely on the Half-Demons and Battle Mages.

However, if one were to look closely, one would discover that no matter if it was Sol's Half-Demons or Sovann's Battle Mages, they weren't using their usual weapons. Instead, every one of them held a staff that were around two meters long and resembled the Cavalrymen's pikes. However...

"Those weapons can no longer be considered staffs..."

Rhode gazed helplessly at the 'metallic staff' in Sovann's hand. This was the mage equipment which Lapis modified. At this moment, the tip of the staff had become entirely like a turret constructed with a round, metal tube. Not only that, but there were also three azure gems embedded at the tip, emanating faint magical radiances. As the gems shone, three flower petal-like defense barriers emerged above him. Moreover, what astonished Rhode was the bent, rectangular small box at the bottom of the staff that contained the magic crystal-the source of power for the staff.

"Yes, Sir."

Lapis held the railing in excitement, unaware of Rhode's helplessness. This Elf who would cower and hug her head in fear whenever a battle was going on gazed at the battlefield in exhilaration. Her eyes glinted with unprecedented pride.

"After that, I reworked the entire magic staff according to your request. Although there are still some flaws in its attacking range, it fulfills your requirement. Please have a look, Sir Rhode. The magic barrier can protect the holder from harm. Not only that, but the spell casting capabilities also aren't weakened at all. It can use spiritual resonance to enhance its effect too! Also, I'm still researching the concept you told me about and it'll be completed soon. As long as everything works out well, I guarantee that not even an army with thousands of men and horses can come close to our fortress! Furthermore, if Madam Mini Bubble Gum's and Madam Canary's assumption come true, we can completely alter the magical technology on this continent and make it even stronger!"

Crazy researchers and science madmen are truly a disease...

For some reason, the scene of a mad scientist wearing a spectacle and standing on the tower amidst a violent storm and laughing hysterically at the collapsing world emerged in Rhode's head-could this be a common disease for every successful person?

Rhode let out a sigh. Then, he patted on Lapis' shoulder.

"Lapis."

"Hmm? Is anything the matter, Sir Rhode?"

Lapis turned around excitedly, but Rhode quickly lifted her chin and pressed his lips against hers.

"...!"

Lapis froze to the spot and widened her eyes in shock. Rhode skillfully extended his tongue, pried open her teeth, and tangled with her tongue. After a few moments, he let go of her and licked his lips as though he had just finished his dessert.

"Not bad, just that your lips are a little dry. Lapis, no matter what you're still a girl. You should take care of yourself more."

"Ah... Yes... Sir Rhode..."

The high-spirited Lapis was nowhere to be seen anymore as she had returned to the reserved, timid, and innocent young lady. Rhode nodded in satisfaction before patting on her head. No matter what, he wasn't interested in that Frankenstein side of her. This pure, innocent little Elf was still his preferred type of girl.

But apart from this, Rhode had to admit that she handled the situation much better than he had imagined. Not only could this weapon cast magic beams coalesced from pure magic powers, but it could also achieve different effects through the magic crystal. However, as the magic spells couldn't exceed the stored magic power in the crystal, the number of spells were also limited. However, this wasn't too big of an issue for him.

The biggest flaw was that even though this upgraded the functionality of the weapon, it also increased the control requirements in other aspects, where only Mages after the Peak Apprentice Stage were qualified to use it in battle. Besides, even though Lapis had also decreased the weight of the weapon, not everyone was capable of using it freely yet. Even right now, apart from the Half-Demons and the Battle Mages, the Mages had a hard time lifting it and it wasn't viable for battles. Although Rhode hoped that Lapis would decrease its weight more, it seemed like it wasn't possible for now.

But this was more than sufficient.

Rhode nodded in satisfaction. Even though this weapon was weaker than magic cannons, it was considered strong enough in the hands of troops in battle. Besides, even if the weapons were worn out and couldn't cast any more magic attacks, their large size could still be useful in battles for physical attacks. No matter the Half-Demons or Battle Mages, they were the core strength of this operation.

Everything is ready.

Rhode puckered his brows and displayed a stern expression. He had to admit that this would be a risky adventure. Including the Elves from the Astral Temple, he would be leading almost 400 troops for the exploration of the Land of Chaos. He wasn't that worried if he were to lead 400 players. However, these troops were natives and could be considered basic NPCs who were less capable.

Without talent trees, the ability to upgrade levels, and legendary equipment from dungeon drops, would the exploration be successful even if he came up with ways to upgrade their strength and equipment?

Moreover, the Land of Chaos blocked off all connections to Order and Rhode couldn't possibly escape to the fortress using the teleportation door. In the game, the players could 'revive' upon death, but he was sure that everything would be done for if he died in here.

I might as well give up on this plan.

There was a split second when he thought of giving up this risky plan. What was wrong with living peacefully in the Land of Atonement? Since the system was around, he wasn't afraid of the Undead Army's encirclement. Not only that, but he also had the women, authority, and money. Was it necessary for him to risk his life with this adventure? It would be too late for regret if something bad were to happen. But...

No.

Rhode had to give it a shot even if it was risky. No matter what, he couldn't accept being under other's control and Lydia was no exception. Although Rhode was a player of the Munn Kingdom and liked Lydia a lot, this didn't mean that he was willing to kneel down and be subdued by her. Besides, strength that didn't belong to him would eventually fail to guarantee his safety. He had already experienced this once during his battle with Erin. Her endless, massive strength and unprecedented pressure were deeply imprinted in his head. Back then, he relied on his wit and survived since Erin didn't have any combat awareness yet, but what about in the future? He couldn't rely on these factors every time, right?

What a joke.

Rhode scoffed before stepping down the platform. He had already decided and since that was the case, he wouldn't regret or change his mind. He had always behaved this way. It was the same in the past, present, and future.

"The time has come!"

Marlene stood before the table with a stern expression, gazing at the indistinct shadows in the crystal ball.

"Guardians of the Senia Family. Everything is turning out just like in the prophecy. The seal on the Land of Chaos is about to be unlocked. This time, we shall return and prove our value and existence. We shall personally witness and partake in this moment that is worth an eternity."

"... I'm aware of this, Marlene."

After a few moments, a frail, trembling voice sounded.

"We've been waiting for the arrival of this day... Our ancestors have seen the path of our future in advance, but I guess you're also aware that this path won't be smooth-sailing, Marlene. Do you have the confidence to accompany the man in completing the path which may possibly be the final journey of your life?"

"... Of course, dear guardian."

After pondering for a few moments, Marlene puffed out her chest and placed her right hand above.

"I am Marlene Senia, the true heir of the Senia Family! I carry this fate and come here to complete my calling. For the sake of that mighty realm, for the sake of the eternal presence, this is my supreme honor and pride which I will not hesitate to sacrifice my life for. For the sake of my family and the great figure who we all follow. This is a sacrifice that we must make!"

Everything fell into silence. Then, after a few moments, a long sigh sounded.

"... Are you sure, Marlene?"

"Of course, Father. I have lived for this day since the day I was born. Didn't you always tell me that when I was young? I've prepared myself for it. Besides..." Marlene lowered her head shyly. "... I don't have any regrets now. I've gotten everything I wished for and it is my time to fulfill the mission. No matter when, I am still Marlene Senia and the Senia Family is my everything. Nothing is more important than my family. Also, this is what I should do and I'm willing to."

"... Is that so..."

The frail voice sounded rather hopeless.

"Alright then... I will leave it to you, Marlene."

"Yes... Father."

Marlene stooped over and bowed respectfully.

"This is my mission and honor."

Marlene shut her eyes and answered softly.

Everything's going well.

Although Rhode said that, the current situation was otherwise.

"What's going on?"

Rhode knitted his brows and scanned Christie and Marlene. His initial plan was to let Joey, Randolf, Sol, Marfa, and Sovann to lead their teams, as well as the Elves from the Astral Temple. For safety, he made Lize bring her team of Clerics. However, he didn't expect that Christie and Marlene would hope to join him on this adventure.

What kind of joke is this?

"Marlene, I have no intention of letting you join us to the tinder coordinates. This is different from heading to the refuge because lighting the tinder will trigger the Chaos vortex, which is extremely dangerous. Previously, the reason why I brought you to the refuge was to let you understand the situation of the territory we will be developing. Besides, you're also aware that a Mage like you is basically useless in the Land of Chaos."

"Of course I know that, Rhode."

Even though Rhode spoke the harsh truth, Marlene didn't seem affected.

"But I have to. This is what I... and the Senia Family have to do. There's only one thing that I can say. Please believe me, Rhode. My family and I will definitely not do anything that will hurt you."

Marlene smiled while gazing at him slyly.

"If you aren't willing, I will gather all the guards in the Senia Family and we'll follow behind you."

"You..."

Rhode looked at her in surprise. Marlene had always been an obedient and understandable person, where she wouldn't throw tantrums out of jealousy. But this time, she was so determined...

"Can't you tell me the reason?"

"Not now, Rhode."

Marlene shut her eyes and shook her head.

"I will tell you everything when the time is right."

"... Okay."

Rhode shook his head helplessly before shifting his gaze to Christie.

"Alright then, Christie, what is your reason? I've asked Canary and she said that you can't maintain the Knowledge Scroll for more than half a second with your current abilities. The Land of Chaos is exceedingly dangerous and you're not in the best condition in your health too. Also, didn't you say that you want to continue improving the set of skills that Bubble taught you? I don't think that you should join us this time."

"I... I know... It's not nice... to bother Rhode... But..."

Christie lowered her head in hesitation. But, shortly after, she said determinedly.

"But... the other me says... that I need to go..."

It's her?

Rhode puckered his brows. Of course, he knew who Christie was talking about. But now... She actually wanted Christie to head into the Land of Chaos? Rhode shifted his gaze between Marlene and Christie.

Could it be that the Land of Chaos has another importance I haven't noticed?