Before the sun rose on the second day, Rhode arrived at the Deep Stone City's entrance with his group. Sereck, who was equipped with his usual leather armor and magic sword, was even earlier than him. At this moment, Sereck indeed resembled a mercenary. Upon seeing Rhode's arrival, Sereck stepped forward and waved at them.
"You're just on time."
Sereck nodded in satisfaction. Then, he swept his gaze over Lize, Marlene and Old Walker. His eyes stopped upon resting on Anne, who made him surprised for a moment. Though he quickly recovered and greeted everyone with a smile.
"Looks like you're ready."
Rhode answered calmly.
While the group might seem calm and collected, when Rhode dropped the bomb on them last night, everyone expressed their shock differently.
Lize felt worried for the safety of the group, naturally.
Marlene was full of spirit as she didn't know where Silent Plateau was.
Old Walker complained that Rhode was seeking death.
And Anne had no opinions on the matter as she had only been freeloading so far. Thus, her reaction was as though they were about to go on a field trip.
"What about the people I requested for?"
Sereck waved his arm and four young girls came from behind him. The oldest among them was about twenty-five years old, and the youngest was approximately around Lize's age.
Contrary to the veteran mercenaries, these four Clerics explicitly revealed their fear on their faces. It was not surprising as not many Clerics would be willing to follow a mercenary group out into the wilderness. Lize was a special exception indeed.
"All of them can cast healing spells and Barrier. Well, lad, I must remind you that they belong to the Mercenary Association. Although my old friend forced himself to agree to your request, it doesn't mean that you can send them to their deaths. I will make it clear right now — if anything happens to these children, I will leave with them immediately. As for the journey afterward, you can only rely on yourself."
"Not a problem."
Hearing Sereck's reminder, Rhode didn't say anything else and thanked him. Then he made his way towards the four Clerics who looked at him with skepticism and uneasiness. Frankly, they didn't want to go, but as a member of the Mercenary Association, they must obey their orders.
In some ways, Clerics were more fragile than mages.
"I think you guys should be aware where we are heading to." Rhode ignored their gazes and spoke calmly, "You should know that it's incredibly dangerous there and you might die. However, as long as you follow my command, you will be safe."
Rhode spread out his hands.
"Please remember to follow my command. If I tell you to do something, just do it and believe in the results. If you do as I say, you will not encounter any danger. I understand that right now, it's my word against yours, but the facts will soon prove my credibility. As such, I don't want anyone to disobey my command no matter what situation arises. I hope that none of you will do something that would make me unhappy."
Rhode paused for a moment and swept his gaze over the four Clerics who had various expressions.
"I will leave you to Lize. If you have any questions, you can ask her. I know that some of you might be superior to her in strength, but with regards to teamwork and adventuring, neither one of you can hold a candle to her. If you don't want to suffer, then you'd better listen to her instructions."
Rhode said no more and he signaled everyone to begin moving. Meanwhile, Sereck made his way towards Rhode with a bitter smile.
"Honestly... aren't you a little too harsh on these ladies?"
"I'm not interested in currying their favor."
Rhode shrugged and shook his head.
"We're here to carry out the mission. This is neither a field trip nor a blind date, so I don't have time to care whether they like me or not — I only need them to follow my command, that's all. In any case, I will have nothing to do with them once we complete this mission."
"Nothing is for certain." Sereck smiled."The way you talk is somewhat like an army officer."
"Is that so?"
Hearing that comparison, Rhode frowned.
"That's right, that kind of determination and decisiveness when facing a mission... Well, in my opinion, an ordinary mercenary won't have such a skill."
Rhode didn't reply as he turned around and walked to the carriage.
Silent Plateau wasn't a place near Deep Stone City; furthermore, there were people in the group who weren't accustomed to adventuring. Hence, Sereck arranged a caravan to be used for transportation. The caravan had six wheels and required eight horses to pull them forward. Since the Mercenary Association wasn't as strict as the army, caravans like this were often used as transportation for members of the Association.
Although there were strong offshore winds in Silent Plateau, the Mercenary Association forbid them from using a floating ship to travel there. The reason was simple. Firstly, because of the recent attacks on merchants, floating ships were wide open targets. Secondly, that place had no port and Rhode and his entourage had no experience in jumping from high altitudes. This world had no parachute, and even if they landed safely, they might be eaten by an undead instead.
Dying before accomplishing anything wasn't something worth boasting.
Thus, while a caravan might be slower, but it was far safer than the floating ship.
Unfortunately, things do not always go as planned.
The road to Silent Plateau wasn't fun — it was riddled with bumps and weeds as almost no one would dare to travel to this haunted place. Even Lize and Old Walker who were seasoned mercenaries could not take it, not to mention Marlene and the other four Clerics. They no longer cared about their image as they crawled out of the caravan and puked. Though oddly enough, Anne had a calm expression as she slept alone in the corner of the caravan.
According to their original plan, after reaching Silent Plateau, all of them would get off and move out immediately. Alas, everyone was currently blue in their faces, and their legs felt like jelly. They hadn't even encountered their first enemy... but were already on their fours. Rhode and Sereck had no choice but to rest for half a day before setting off.
"I hope that those guys can hold on until we arrive."
Rhode whispered to himself as he stared at the ominous clouds above the dark, eerie forest.
Night had already fallen, but the forest was abnormally still — not even a single animal sound could be heard from within.
Rhode knew what was ahead — it was nothing else but the aura of death. He really hoped that those people could hold on until they arrived.
But Rhode did not put much faith in their ability to survive as he had experienced plenty of similar quests back in the game. Most of the time, NPCs would succumb to death before their reinforcement arrive, which was truly a depressing matter considering how much effort Rhode had to put in to fight his way to the rescue location.
"No need to worry."
Sereck was more optimistic than Rhode.
"I know the leader of Victorious Wine. He is a vigilant young man; he won't die that easily. Even if his chance of survival is close to zero, we still have to try since we are all part of the Mercenary Association."
Rhode didn't reply Sereck. The Mercenary Association appeared to be a strong organization on the surface, and they were highly-regarded among mercenary groups. However, it didn't mean that they had the power to forcefully disband a mercenary group to enhance their status. Power and responsibility always came hand-in-hand. The mercenaries would listen to the Mercenary Association's orders, and in turn, the Mercenary Association would aid the mercenaries whenever needed.
Requesting for reinforcement was one such perk members of the Mercenary Association had. Whether they were alive or dead, once the Mercenary Association receives their request, they will send people to their rescue.
This display of reliability proved to the far stronger than any contract; in fact, the reason why most mercenary groups dared to explore was also because of this.
Trust was priceless.
"I... I can't go on anymore, Lize."
Marlene sagged against the tree. Her legs wobbled like jelly, and her head was spinning uncontrollably. A nauseous sensation took over her body; it felt even worse than the magic plant she had accidentally eaten. She tilted her head upwards to suppress the vomit rushing up to her throat while Lize quickly cast a spell to alleviate her condition.
"Bear with it Marlene. Take a deep breath and rest for a while."
"Take a deep...urghh...!!!"
Marlene's body suddenly arched and her throat convulsed uncontrollably.
...It seemed like she had barfed last night's dinner.
The other Clerics fared no better than Marlene. Fortunately, they were blessed with healing spells. However, they still appeared to be haggard as they lay on the ground, exhausted. If anyone saw their plight right now, they would've thought that they had encountered an undead attack.
Only one person was totally unaffected by the ride.
She yawned as she climbed down from the caravan and proceeded to stretch her stiff body. After stretching, she looked strangely at the people eyeing her and found that all the girls were staring daggers at her.
Then she turned towards Rhode and said, "Ah, leader, have we arrived? When should we start?"
"Three hours from now. Let them rest for a little bit."
Facing the girl who had hopped over to him energetically, Rhode quickly pointed towards the base camp and replied.
"You also should go eat something and take a rest. After that, we will start our mission. Don't forget your duty."
"Of course~ Rest assured leader. When Anne is here, there will be no problem!"
After answering him, Anne hummed her way to base camp and whipped out a few pieces of meat from the bag to eat by the campfire. Comparing this girl who had plenty of energy to spare to the half-dead Marlene and gang, it was quite... a contrast.
"I didn't expect you to recruit her."
Sereck took two cups of hot water and sat beside Rhode. At the same time, he handed one over.
"It looks like you have something up your sleeves."
"You know Anne?"
Rhode took the cup Sereck offered to him and asked casually.
"I have met her a few times before. While her personality is indeed quite troublesome, her ability is top-notch. Don't judge her by how easy-going appears to be, because when she gets serious, that girl can be really powerful."
"I think so too."
He hadn't interact with Anne often, but looking at her performance from the recruitment test, he could clearly see that her ability was unique, and...
"Do you know about her past?"
With that petite body, Anne was able to pick up a shield in one hand and throw it with ease. Rhode couldn't help but frown. He thought that his Vitality and Strength stat was already considered fairly high, but to pick up a shield that weighed dozens of kilograms was definitely not an easy feat. In fact, before coming here, Rhode had given Anne the Rock Heart Shield which he acquired from the Rock of Lament to add some additional impact to her attacks. And that shield certainly wasn't something light.
Anne was so ecstatic after receiving the magic shield that she even rushed over and kissed him. This made Rhode smile bitterly, but since her personality was like this, he could only leave it at that.
"I can't say for certain, but I do know that the Mark White mercenary group found her on the mountain. At that time, she was only one or two years old, and she lived together with a wild beast. That old fellow brought her out and fostered her. It sure as hell wasn't an easy thing... I recalled that she would bite anyone who touched her and that old fellow was bitten numerous times by her. "
"Frankly, a lot of people told him to sell this girl, after all, there was no use in keeping her. But that old fellow was stubborn and insisted on keeping her. Eventually, he taught her how to talk, write and learn like a human. Perhaps at that point, he already thought of her as his own daughter. The child gradually grew to resemble more like a human, but her personality...well, I've heard everything that happened to Mark White and leaving was a good thing. This child's strength is insanely strong, we've suspected that she was of a Barbarian descent, but..."
Then, Sereck smiled.
"I have never seen such a slender Barbarian in my life before. Even if she's a dwarf, she's a little too tall. Furthermore, she's also quite a beauty."
Sereck paused, and his expression suddenly turned serious.
"Alright, enough of the chit-chat, let's get back to the real topic. I want to know how you will bring us into the Silent Plateau safely. You said that you are very familiar with this place... I don't know whether it is true or not, but I believe in you. As your comrade, I want to know your plan."
"Of course, that's not a problem."
Rhode raised his head and revealed an expression of unprecedented self-confidence.
It wasn't just a false front; he truly had the experience to back his confidence. Back in the game, the Silent Plateau was a troublesome dungeon. Many players even called it the 'Holy Land of Guild Extermination,' and anyone who stepped into the area would face death. This was why everyone skipped this dungeon because according to many, the loots weren't lucrative either. Since the dungeon was difficult, yet its rewards were miserable, no player would want to run it at all.
As the King of First Kill in the game, Rhode had undoubtedly completed this dungeon and created a popular formation among the players called the '9+1 formation.'
The '9+1 formation' consisted of nine Clerics and a player with huge AoE attacks. In the dungeon, Rhode would protect the Clerics who used their holy spells to suppress the undead.
After that, the Silent Plateau that was once hailed as the 'Holy Land of Guild Extermination' became a place for Clerics to farm experience. Since they were only a supporting class, it was difficult for them to level up besides going to dungeons with other players or clearing Silent Plateau with the '9+1 formation.' Therefore, the dungeon became a Cleric's primary leveling spot. Whether they were aspiring to be PKers or PvE players, as long as they could complete Silent Plateau smoothly, they could be considered to have mastered their class in skill and experience.
As the guild leader, Rhode would often bring his Clerics to level up and practice in the dungeon. As for himself, he could probably walk through this place with his eyes closed.
There was another matter which was somewhat interesting. At one time, he brought some Clerics to clear the dungeon, and at the final stage, the BOSS somehow didn't appear. This left him no choice but to leave the dungeon to reset. After this incident spread, a lot of players said that the BOSS had been killed by Rhode far too many times and was scared to appear.
That was why although Silent Plateau was feared by many, Rhode had nothing to be afraid of.
This time, Rhode had brought five Clerics which clearly wasn't sufficient for the '9+1 formation', but he wasn't worried at all. After all, he was the one who developed this formation, so he knows the ins-and-outs of it at the back of his hand. Furthermore, the Mercenary Association wouldn't provide him with eight or nine Clerics, so four was adequate. Lize had an angel bloodline and could fill two slots in the formation and Marlene had AoE spells, so that was not a problem.
Lastly, Sereck also participated in this mission. A level 40 Swordmaster was enough to fill the remaining gap.
Thus, Rhode was extremely confident.
"For this mission, the Clerics will be our main source of damage."
Sereck couldn't help but feel slightly surprised.
"Although I have anticipated this... but lad, you have to understand that a Cleric isn't a Soul Knight. They do not possess offensive spells, and furthermore, these people have no combat experience. Do you really want to push them to face the undead?"
Rhode shook his head.
"There's no need for them to enter the frontlines. It's better for them to attack from the rear."
"So I hope Mr. Sereck can join them in the rear and protect them. Our pressure will surely lessen if you're there. However, I'm still slightly worried as you've said that they had never been in a battle before."
"Our pressure will lessen?"
Sereck was confused. He visited the Silent Plateau before and understood that the undead would endlessly rush them in waves. Even he, as a Master Swordsman would have difficulty facing the undead horde. So how can this young man say that their pressure will lessen if he went to the rear?
Perhaps he's not afraid of the undead?
Is he bluffing? Or does he really have a way?
Suddenly, as Sereck was deep in thought, Old Walker's silhouette appeared from the forest with a grim expression.
"I have found the tracks they left behind."
He walked to Rhode and said in low voice.