Rhode leaned against the window frame while admiring the night scenery through the long floor-to-ceiling window. On the other side of the window glass, there was a heavy downpour and the window glass muffled its melodious symphony. The faraway pitch-black forest swayed in the strong wind while cooling water vapor passed through the gap by the window edge and refreshed the stuffy room. On the contrary, the night sky was clear of clouds and a full moon hung in the sky which illuminated the Land of Atonement brightly: this was the unique scenery of this land located near the edge.
The bright moonlight spilled through the long floor-to-ceiling window and brought some tranquility to Rhode's pitch-black room. Rhode sat down on a chair and continued to admire the night scenery.
This was something that Rhode loved to do in the game. The appreciation of the rain allowed him to forget about real life troubles temporarily. This escape from reality was as though he belonged to the gaming world. At the same time, he could look at this world objectively with calm gazes.
Rhode loved this feeling of detachment and he was addicted to it. It was the same after coming to this world. Although he would still get injured, hurt, and could even die in this world, his perspective didn't change at all. Perhaps, he would contribute to the people that he cared for in this world by protecting or helping them. But this wouldn't change his perspective and standpoint. Just like in the game, the players and NPCs might temporarily forgo their disputes and identities of one another and collaborate to take down a monster. However, this didn't mean that their thoughts were exactly the same. To the NPCs, they gave up the disputes to protect their city and loved ones. However, to the players, they protected the city for the sake of the equipment that would drop from defeating the monsters, the reputation points, and perhaps to prevent an NPC from an important, on-going mission to be killed by the monster. Although the process and results were indeed to protect the city from the monsters, their motivation to act was most likely unrelated.
There were some players that were so indulged in the gaming world that they had forgotten about the real world. They refused to return to the real world and lived in the gaming world like aborigines. These players devoted themselves to the game as though they were born and bred in the gaming world packed with swords, magic, and adventures while the real world was only just a dream to them.
However, Rhode disliked this extremity and he didn't devote himself to the game fully. Although he would grieve for the death of an NPC that he admired and be frustrated about the betrayal plots and his backstabbers, he continued to maintain a transcendental perspective between the two worlds. This was a kind of relationship that was difficult to explain clearly. It was as though both audience and actors were standing in the same arena with vastly different perspectives. Rhode's perspective was between those of the audience and actors and not only did he watch the repertoire before him, he also devoted himself to it. But, even so, Rhode had never forgotten his true identity.
This wasn't a world that belonged to him but he continued to fight on for his goal and himself.
So what was the meaning of this?
Perhaps there wasn't any meaning to it in the first place as meaning was interpreted by humans. Perhaps some could understand the prosperity and declination of a kingdom and the sorrow and helplessness of men in the face of destiny through the words of one who had spent thousands of years in the toughest terrain or a poet's unintentional lament. However, what most people saw was nothing more than a nutcase speaking gibberish after getting drunk.
The corner of Rhode's mouth quirked up as he gazed at the Fortress from his window.
Then, someone knocked on the door.
"Please come in," Rhode responded without turning over.
The dusky room surprised the visitor. However, she closed the door and approached Rhode. "Rhode... This is the residency application report and the current mercenary forces of the Fortress that I've gathered during your absence. I've checked them all and everything is in place. But I will still need you to make the final decision. After all, you are the guild leader and there was no hurry for me to decide on your behalf."
"I'll take a look when I have the time," Rhode took over the report and tossed it to the side while Marlene knitted her brows at his ignorant action.
However, she recovered her usual expression quickly after Rhode gazed at her. "If there's nothing else, I'll take my leave, Rhode."
"Hmm? What's wrong? You don't seem too happy," Rhode asked curiously.
"... No, I'm fine. Perhaps it's getting late... and I'm a little tired..." Marlene denied with a stiff voice and an expressionless face. She turned around and left, however, a pair of hands emerged from behind her back swiftly and embraced her waist. "R-Rhode?!"
"I don't like kids who tell lies, Miss Marlene," Rhode's voice rang in Marlene's ears as he nibbled on her earlobe. That deep voice mashed with Rhode's breathing sent the young lady trembling. However, even so, she gnashed her teeth and clenched her fists as though she were tolerating his actions desperately.
"I-I don't know what you're talking about, Rhode... I'm not... Ah!" before Marlene could finish her sentence, she let out a startled shriek and Rhode loosened his right hand that was grabbing the young lady's chest.
"I didn't know that an obedient child like Miss Marlene actually loved to tell lies? It seems like I have to punish you..."
"I-I'm really not..." Marlene began to panic as she turned around to face Rhode. However, at this moment, Rhode lifted her chin with his fingers and landed a kiss on her lips.
"Mmm..." Marlene's body tightened abruptly while her hands struggled in the air innately as though to grab for support. However, she put down her hands almost immediately after as the soft, gentle kisses began to intensify. The silent room was filled with the sound of their entangling salivary tongues and Marlene's resistive body turned softer as she leaned into Rhode's embrace.
"Ha... Ha..." As their lips separated, Marlene felt her vision blur. Her fair, delicate cheeks were smeared in pinkish red while a seductive lust reflected off her beautiful eyes.
Rhode bent his head down to the young lady's neck and twitched his nose slightly. "Hmm... You showered before coming over... Marlene, it seems like you have a habit of showering before reporting to your commanding officer?"
"No... This... I..." Marlene shook her head with all her might while shutting her eyes like an adorable little girl denying a crime that she had committed. Rhode let out a rare chuckle as he observed Marlene's actions.
"You're still not telling the truth? Why were you unhappy?"
"I... I..." Marlene hesitated but lowered her head in the end. "I'm not unhappy... I was just... Rhode, you bought presents for Christie and Lize, but..."
"But you didn't get any, right?" Rhode continued Marlene's sentence.
"..." Marlene nodded silently. In the afternoon, Rhode gave Christie and Lize a beautiful crystal necklace and white-gold bracelet respectively in front of Marlene while she didn't receive any anything. Although they weren't expensive gifts Marlene couldn't afford, she felt unhappy that she was being left out.
This was unusual behavior for this young lady because, after all, Marlene had learned to be open-minded and wouldn't cause a ruckus for such a small matter as an heir of a huge noble family. Furthermore, her relationship with Rhode had exceeded the ordinary relationship and logically speaking, she shouldn't be angry over a small accessory. However, for unknown reasons, she felt miserable, especially after seeing Rhode's expressionless face as though he wasn't mindful of her feelings at all.
"What a silly girl. I didn't think that you would be angry over such a little thing."
"... Hmph." Marlene let out a groan since she had already spoken the truth and there were no reasons for her to deny now.
"But don't worry. I've prepared a gift for you too, okay? And it is something that you want the most."
"Eh?" At this moment, Marlene's robe had been stripped entirely and it plopped to the ground. The chilly night breeze caressed her dewy skin intimately, to which the young lady shuddered. Then, before she realized it, a fiery presence stuck closely to her back.
"I'm sure this is the present that you wanted, Marlene?"
"Say it. Yes or no? If no, then I might have mistaken."
"N-No, no, no..." Marlene shook her head desperately but soon, she found out that something was amiss. "No, yes, no... No, Yes..."
"Is it a yes or no?" Rhode's voice got softer and softer as his hands roamed around the young lady's body mischievously. Marlene felt her body getting warmer; at the same time, a strange desire began to burn within her body...
"... Yes..." Marlene lowered her head and answered softly.
"Good," Rhode nodded in satisfaction and with a sly smile. Marlene felt her body lifted up in an instant and before she knew it, her back was against the soft, fluffy bed. She lifted her head frantically to see Rhode's face before hers. "So then, let me give you your present, Marlene..."
Marlene shut her eyes, but she didn't receive the pounding that she expected. Instead, she widened her eyes in astonishment. She realized that her wrists had been bound by a rope securely. "R-Rhode, this is..."
"This is the punishment for a disobedient child," Rhode lectured with a smile while gazing at Marlene's bashful expression.