A green card materialized and transformed into the Spirit Bird which flew towards Marleen's flank. The girl was completely oblivious to the attack. Her faith in her storm guard was absolute, and she figured that if he attacked, she would immediately counter-attack.
Screech! Alas... due to her ignorance and overreliance on her spells, when a cry suddenly echoed from behind, she was dumbfounded.
What happened? What's it?
She subconsciously turned around to check, but when she did, a huge gust of wind slammed into her.
The storm guard could indeed block most of the damage, but unfortunately, Rhode had used the most simple and most efficient way to counter it. For a creature of the wind, even if faced a raging hurricane, it would be nothing more than like a fish swimming in the sea.
As she was caught unprepared, the girl fell to the ground, unable to breathe. All of a sudden, the intricate formations on Marleen's robe began to glow, and a solid, translucent crystal barrier formed around her, allowing her to breathe once again. Once she caught her breath, she immediately attempted to get up, but the moment her head turned, she discovered Rhode standing beside her.
What?! When did he appear there?
Marlene was startled, but she still forced herself to remain calm. She raised her wand and tried to cast another spell, but this time, Rhode didn't give her a chance to do it.
The girl's magic isn't bad per se... but she still lacked the necessary experience.
After observing how she retaliated against the Spirit Bird, he intended to stop fighting with her. During the battle, she ignored an incoming attack just to ensure that Rhode's figure didn't leave her sights. This indicated that her battle awareness was amateurish. Thus, if that was the case, then he did not mind defeating her to teach her.
Rhode grinned to himself. Then, he lifted his right hand.
The green card that was on his palm swiftly turned red.
The whirlwind also changed color at the same time.
Marleen's eyes widened in shock. This phenomenon seemed to have surpassed her expectations. In a blink of an eye, a bright crimson flame melded with the wind and spun furiously as it crashed into the crystal barrier. The solid barrier shook violently under the enormous impact.
Craaaack. Spiderweb-like fractures began to appear on the barrier. Marleen knew that it wouldn't last much longer and decided to counter-attack. But she was slightly too late. A black hound suddenly emerged from the fiery hurricane and slammed into the barrier with its ferocious claws.
Finally, the low-level barrier couldn't absorb any more damage and broke into countless of tiny fragments. Then, the black hound flashed its terrifyingly sharp teeth before rushing towards her.
This time, she was genuinely frightened.
Since the beginning of the battle, she wasn't able to turn the tides on him even for a second. Rhode's movements were always beyond her expectations, and she could not predict what he would do next. While she had some experience in dueling back in the academy, when she faced Rhode, all her previous experiences were worthless.
It was paramount for mages' to keep a distance from melee combatants to ensure their safety before launching attacks.
Hmph. I need to protect myself before attacking?
Use my most powerful spell at the start of the battle to cause damage to intimidate the enemy?
Of course, I know that! But, how do I accomplish that now!!
Marlene almost collapsed in the face of the terrifying beast. At this point, only her arrogant pride kept her from succumbing to fear and confusion. She subconsciously raised her hand and pointed at the ferocious beast who was dashing towards her.
A whirlwind condensed on the ruby on her wand and shot forward. Watching the attack approach at high speed, the Flame Killer stopped abruptly. It roared loudly, and then it retreated. This gave Marleen a brief moment of respite as she heaved a sigh of relief and raised her wand towards Rhode.
This time, the card on Rhode's hand turned white,
It was shining brilliantly.
Marlene felt her wrist turn cold, she immediately lost focus and glanced down at her wrist. After that, her entire body shivered.
The formerly gorgeous and splendid robe had been shredded, revealing her snow-like skin. However, what made her terrified was the blood that was oozing out from her forearm.
That was Marlene's first thoughts; then her mind started to spin out of control.
Am I hurt?
She blanked out. All she could only think of was the blood flowing down her wrist. As for the defense strategy that she had devised to counter Rhode? All of them were tossed into the drain. She even subconsciously cast her wand to the side and gripped her wrist tightly. What about the fight? What about the duel? She didn't care! In her eyes, her injured arm was the most important!
How did I get injured?
Why am I injured?
What should I do?!
Marlene could be described as a resilient flower, but in the end, she still resided in a greenhouse. Naturally, a genius like her would be filled with confidence and self-discipline. She had never encountered any major setbacks in her life... at least not until now.
Suddenly, the cold feeling of steel dragged her sorry self back to reality. She looked to the front, and the first thing she reflected in her eyes was a white, shining sword.
The Star Mark flew past Marleen and stabbed into the ground, mere inches away from her neck.
At this moment, Marlene was akin to a puppet with their strings cut. Her legs felt soft and she kneeled down onto the floor. Her eyes were hollow as she stared blankly at the sky.
"The ability to combine multiple elements into magic means that your understanding towards magic spells is quite profound."
Rhode indifferent voice echoed in the garden. He spoke while raising his right hand and soon, the white card from his palm disappeared, following with the white sword which pierced the ground beside Marlene.
"But in actual combat, this is the result. If you perform the same way in missions, then I will give up on you. Lize, treat the wounds and bring her up for a rest. It seems that she unable to get a hold of herself for a moment."
Lize who had been worried sick, quickly ran over to treat Marlene's wound after hearing Rhode's command. Marlene appeared as if she had lost her soul, staring blankly while sitting on the ground and not saying anything.
Looking at her pitiful state, Rhode frowned but did not say unnecessary. He was quite confident of her mental condition. After all, in the future, she would be known as the 'Queen of Mercenaries'. As for the rest, it is up to her. If she continued to act like an arrogant brat, then the group would surely be destroyed. Rhode certainly knew that he was not interested in sending himself off.
It was just as he said. Marlene indeed had a profound understanding of the magic itself, but it wasn't very useful in actual combat, which was a common problem for many people, including the players. It was just like conquering a dungeon, everyone could read the dungeon strategy guide, and the boss weakness would be revealed. But in the actual fight, what use would it be?
If things happened based on what had been written down, then that'll be for the best, but what if there was an accident? Let's say that the monsters were killed earlier than expected, and the boss appeared before they could get into position. When that happens, if the situation was not handled properly, the group might be wiped out!
Rhode believed that if the battle went as she has expected, then she would surely perform as well as those legendary figures in history. Unfortunately, fights, in reality, was unlike CG animations. Under an unexpected situation, her mind immediately became unstable, and that was a significant problem.
After Lize left with Marleen, he went back into the house. Old Hank's face was clearly different. He never thought that Rhode was actually that strong. That girl was the famous magical genius of Golden City. She had defeated many people with just one move. Moreover, he did not expect that this young man would be that ruthless! He actually injured the beautiful young miss.
Right now, Old Hank was feeling rather bitter. He sighed as he looked helplessly at Rhode's back and then at Marlene, who was being lifted up by Lize.
A while later.
Marlene silently stared out of the window, her eyes still somewhat vacant.
After all that had happened, Lize brought her to a room where she could finally relax. This was the most massive blow in her life so far. It was just like a famous idol who was being suddenly slapped to the ground and kicked in the face.
Rhode's words repeatedly rang in her mind. Although she could not accept it, she had no way to refute it. While she could blame her loss on Rhode's unorthodox fighting style, but she knew that if it were truly a life-and-death battle, there would only be a single person standing - the winner. If Rhode were her enemy, then she would be dead by now. How can a dead person complain if someone's fighting style was weird and crafty?
"How do you feel Marlene?"
Lize put a cup of hot tea in front of Marlene and asked in low voice.
"I'm feeling better. Thanks, Lize."
Marlene reluctantly exposed a stiff smile. While she was happy that she could meed an old friend here, but under these circumstances, she couldn't help but feel slightly awkward. The impact of this duel weighed heavy on her. It wasn't as if she hadn't lost before, but there had never been a time where she lost in such an embarrassing manner before. Moreover, the duels with her teacher were very civilized, and would she rarely notice any blood during the spar... Marlene shook her head dejectedly. She found that she was too weak.
"Frankly, I took things too lightly."
"I thought that it wouldn't be too difficult to finish these mercenary commissions with my strength. But... now I know that I can't even fight properly. Obviously, in my mind, I knew that I had to execute my drills, but my body did not move as I wanted to. In the end, I don't know what should I do."
Marlene exposed a bitter smile as she explained.
"I used to laugh at those incompetent people. But looking at it right now, comparing me to them, there's not so much difference, right?"
"That isn't the case, Marlene."
Lize stood up and held her hand. Her eyes focused on the girl in front of her.
"Actual battles and what we imagine actual battles to be are vastly different. I was also the same once. Marlene. Before joining the mercenary group, I was also full of unrealistic dreams; I believed that I could rely on my ability to heal every single one of their injuries. They helped me when I needed them and so I wanted to be able to help them."
Lize's eyes flashed a trace of sadness.
"But when I participated in my first real battle, when I saw real flesh and blood, I was almost scared to death. In fact, I did not have the time to treat everyone. There were too many people being seriously injured. Although the leader did not directly blame me, I could sense their disappointment in their eyes. I know that they needed my help, and I had the ability to help them. But I took a step back at the most critical moment... The leader told me that everyone would face such a test without exception. After that, I also kept working hard and finally..."
Marlene looked down; her beautiful eyes revealed a trace of complicated feelings.
"I understand what you mean Lize, it was just like what he said. If I did the same things as I did now on the mission, no wonder he would not want me. But..."
Marleen clenched her fists.
"I still wanted to try. I know that my experience is limited. I also understand that the things that I was proud of, is useless for my improvement. But I won't run away like a coward because I am Marlene Senia! I am born with my family's pride and glory! I absolutely won't allow myself to retreat, no matter how difficult and hard it will be, I will bite the bullet and continue moving forward. I have decided."
Her face turned bitter as she murmured these words to herself. Marlene figured that something was wrong. She quickly raised her head and looking at Lize.
"By the way, Lize. You have not told me why you are here as a mercenary? Why did you leave the Golden City? At that time, I was absent, so I didn't know what happened. When I returned, you were already gone. I had been looking for you for a long time ever since... Why did you leave?"
After hearing Marlene's question, Lize's expression turned somber. She bit her lower lips and answered, "Because it was the decision of the family council."
"You were expelled?!"
Hearing that term 'Family Council', Marlene suddenly stood up. She stared at the girl who sat beside her in surprise and anger.
"How could those old geezers do that! They actually dared to drive you out? Did Mr. Drekman not stop them?
"Father agreed the Council's opinion."
Hearing that sentence, Marlene didn't know what else to say.
"...how can he..."
"It's not surprising."
Lize smiled and shook her head. She stretched out her hand, playing with her golden ponytail.
"Right now, I am not called Lize Calante Belgrade any longer. Lize Noir… That's my name now.
"That group of self-righteous old geezers!"
Marlene raised her eyebrows coldly and sat down again. Then she looked at Lize with concern.
"Just like now."
Lize replied softly.
"I will stay in this mercenary group. It is part of my life now. Although it is very dangerous, but for me, it isn't something bad. Mr. Rhode promised me that he would revive the mercenary group. I think that this is better and more meaningful job than me wearing an expensive dress while attending the banquets, isn't it?"
Marlene was surprised at the calm girl, who revealed a gentle smile. But still, her mind felt somewhat complicated.
That little girl who liked to cry from before... now has now grown up... eh?