The clanging of the heavy bells resounded in the entire Mithril Hall and numbed everyone's ears.
The parliament meeting was about to begin.
The parliament members stood in the standby room and exchanged anxious glances. Four senior men in red robes stood before them with delightful expressions. "The meeting is about to begin and I think all of you are clear on what to do."
"..." Some of the parliament members tried to retort, but as soon as they budged, a sharp sword was held against their throats.
One of the senior men in red robe snapped his fingers and the guards instantly backed off. "I won't deprive you of your rights to speak. You can speak your mind here. Isn't this the reason why we're all here?"
"Your doings will only bring disaster to Soraka Mountain!" The parliament member groaned furiously as he clenched his fists and glared at the senior men. "You said that relying on the Country of Darkness can ensure our prosperity forever. But have you ever considered that our land is caught right in between the Country of Darkness and Country of Light? A reckless decision like this will put the entire Soraka Mountain into danger!"
"These are all banal comments. Everyone knows that you have to pay a price to gamble. Besides, we know the reason why we chose the Country of Darkness..." One of the senior men in red robes said loudly and stepped forward. His grandeur shrouded the entire room instantly and forced the berating parliament member a step back. "The Country of Light is an intolerable bully. Their oppression has reached an insatiable level! It is all because of that damned treaty that we have to sell a portion of our minerals to them every year. But what about those greedy bastards? They don't even sell theirs at their cost price! Everyone, we are clear on how many times we have been 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' in order to compensate the miners. Soraka Mountain exports astronomical amount of crystal ores every year, but why are some miners not fed properly? Why is this happening? They demand an answer from me, so it's my turn to question you. Who is it to blame?"
The senior man swung his arm with might. "It's those damned, greedy bastards from the Country of Light that depressed the prices wantonly. Did they say anything when we sold our minerals to them at a low price? All they did was to complain that we provided too little of our minerals in comparison to the Country of Darkness and claimed that we were the lackeys of the Country of Darkness. They asserted that we betrayed humans! The damned mouths of those bastards! They squeezed every drop of our blood and sweat and accused us instead! Did we work so hard for a living just to be humiliated and treated as slaves by them?!"
"This is definitely a problem and no one here denied it!" The parliament member stepped forward once again. "I don't deny the fact that the Country of Light has indeed given Soraka Mountain a lot of problems. But this is politics! Which requires compromise and negotiations! It isn't as simple as just joining the side that your enemies hate! Indeed, we are disgusted by the Country of Light. But, what about the Country of Darkness? Is their willingness to purchase our minerals at fair, equitable market price all for the sake of great reputation? My fellow parliament members, we have encountered plenty of humans that escaped from the Country of Darkness. That nation is for the Undead and the Humans there have no status whatsoever. In there, Humans are merely slaves, untouchables, and their corpses can't even find peace. They will turn into a member of the undead forever after the end of their lives to serve the evil presences. Haven't you thought that if we chose to join the Country of Darkness, we will also face the same treatment? No! Perhaps we won't since the Undead treat their subordinates kindly. If we are willing to give up our pride as humans and pray for a false eternal life, perhaps we can turn into a Lich or Vampire. But what about the rest? If we accept the protection of the Country of Darkness, what will happen to the Humans?"
He took half a step forward with puckered brows. "Indeed, I admit that the Country of Light has given us a hard time with their avariciousness. But don't forget that due to our neutral position, the Country of Darkness will act in accordance with what we say because they know that we are Humans. Although those maggots from the Country of Light are disgusting, you have to admit that we will still lean towards Light and Life in the face of death. If the Country of Darkness lowers their prices and squeeze out every drop of our resources and manpower like the Country of Light, we will definitely still choose the Country of Light. The goodwill of the Country of Darkness is all perhaps for this moment. We will lose our independence if we rely on the Country of Darkness for protection and we will end up in the same fate as the Humans in their country!"
The man raised both arms emotionally. "Can't you see that this is a trap? We can't loosen our grip even if our hands are full of sharp thorns. This is much better than jumping into a nest of vipers!"
"Of course we are clear of the problem that you said," the senior in red robe sighed slightly and his expression was filled with some unprecedented fatigue. "We are all parliament members who work hard for this land. How can I not understand my fellow workers? As a matter of fact, I'm aware of this too. There is a lot of power behind the decisions that we have made. They may not be happy, but they will certainly be shaken. We are risking our citizens, but..."
He gritted his teeth and gazed at the fully armored guard. "We don't have much time left."
"What do you mean?" The parliament members were taken aback. In fact, this was the first time they had met these rebellious colleagues. Ever since the Chairman went missing, they had been controlled separately where they couldn't speak and could only stay in their own homes. Although these people had their own ways of making inquiries, they were only able to hear the vague details.
"I know what you are thinking. I can swear that we did not conspire to murder the Chairman. But... sometimes, we have to make certain choices to avoid bigger sacrifices," the senior in red robe spread his arms apart.
"... The danger is approaching as we speak. We don't have much time and we have to make a decision. You are right that we will sink into eternal danger if we seek protection from the Darkness. But..." he paused for a moment, "if we are on the verge of perishing, we will not have the chance to experience the eternal danger anymore."
"What do you mean by this?"
"We want to know the answer!"
"Please tell us the truth!"
The parliament members yelled as they knew something was amiss. It seemed ridiculous enough to the parliament members that the parliament's decision this time hadn't gone through negotiations with the Country of Darkness. But now...
At this moment, a vigorous voice sounded. "Let me tell you!"
Everyone lifted their heads as the Chairman pushed the door open and entered the room. "Mr. Chairman!"
The Chairman nodded before gazing at Rhode behind him. "It's good enough that I can make it back. It seems that I have disappointed some people here."
The Chairman glared at the four seniors in red robes. However, the seniors didn't cower and they continued to gaze at the Chairman with firm, incomparable faith as though they were vile characters who had turned into mighty heroes.
"I can tell you the truth... No, I should say that if there weren't all these troubles, I would have told the truth earlier." The Chairman paused before striding to the middle of the room. He gazed at his colleagues and subordinates. "In fact, Parmal's group reported a matter to me a few months ago..." The Chairman sighed before turning to Rhode and lowering his head. "He told me that the Sealed Aperture had begun to loosen."
"..." There were no responses. Everyone stared with widened eyes while Rhode knitted his brows.
Whether this phrase was heard in game or reality, mission or dungeon, it was a cause for alarm. In fact, there were two system prompts which players feared the most. One of it was the [XX BOSS is turning berserk], while the other was the [Discovered a Sealed Aperture].
Although both phrases had different meanings, they would usually lead to only one result-Wipe Out.
The Chairman continued to explain. "Parmal's group had the intentions of relying on the Dark Dragon's powers. However, I disagreed. We have successive generations on this piece of land and we are equipped with the ability to protect it... Besides, using its future as a price to pay is too high and we can't afford to risk it. This isn't sacrificing only our generation, but eternal despair..."
"B-But... Mr. Chairman..." Another parliament member spoke in a frightened and concerned tone. "W-We..."
"I have decided." Before his colleague finished his sentence, the Chairman gestured. "The meeting has begun, so let's go!"
The Chairman nodded towards Rhode. "Thank you very much for your help. But this is all that I can say for now."
The Chairman entered the passage on the other end while Rhode stood on the spot, staring at his back.
At this moment, he finally realized that things weren't that simple.
Just as Rhode had predicted, the motivation and existing state of affairs had no relations at all. The Chairman and Rhode had heard their disputes before entering the room and as expected, the Country of Light's oppression was only an excuse. Or perhaps, this was an excuse that would be much easier to accept. Sometimes, excuses could be used to conceal one's true intentions. Right now, Rhode could conclude that Soraka Mountain's Parliament used this matter as an excuse in order to cover up the truth from the Country of Light and Country of Darkness. As for the citizens, this excuse would be much easier for them to accept.
So, what exactly was the truth that this excuse was covering up?
Rhode wasn't sure. He inferred from the game's development in the past, but it seemed that this matter was far more complicated. Soraka Mountain's Parliament wasn't compelled to make this decision. But, although it seemed that they were compelled to, at least the reasons didn't stem from the Country of Light and Country of Darkness. Instead, Soraka Mountain seemed to be consciously exploiting both countries' powers and risking a gamble.
What exactly was Soraka Mountain's Parliament thinking about? As the Chairman had said, he wouldn't gamble the future of this land no matter what disaster entailed... But, if there wasn't a future, what did that mean?
This was as though the earth was about to be swallowed by a black hole and if aliens arrived to rescue them with the conditions that the earthlings would become the aliens' slaves. Would they agree to it?
Suddenly, Rhode shivered from head to toe at this thought.
Rhode recalled something almost inexplicably. That was the future when the Country of Darkness invaded the Munn Kingdom. The Munn Kingdom retreated in defeat under the overwhelming forces of the Undead and Royal Highness Lydia had to step in to stabilize the war. At that moment, the Dark Dragon retreated for a full day and no one knew what it was up to. Afterwards, some players who were heading to Soraka Mountain reported that Soraka Mountain had been destroyed totally. This turned Soraka Mountain into a laughing stock in the forums and to the players, these idiots chose to join the Country of Darkness and were eliminated entirely by them. What a bunch of morons.
But was this true?
An indescribable cold air flowed from beneath his feet to the top of his head.
Soraka Mountain was located at the common border between the Dark and Light Dragon Souls and the land contained an abundance of magical crystals. However, there was nothing strange about it because the magical powers by such a chaotic border were usually extraordinary. Due to this reason, the people born in Soraka Mountain were perhaps born with some elemental powers. However, the order stability of Soraka Mountain was rare and unique of its kind.
The Dark Dragon and Light Dragon each conquered one-third of land on this continent and the common border between them spread indefinitely. Why was Soraka Mountain receiving such exceptional advantages?
Was it natural? Or artificial?
Rhode and several players had always thought that Soraka Mountain was naturally lucky in geographical location. However, the Chairman's words seemed to deny this assumption as it was apparent that the Soraka Mountain possessed corresponding stable environmental factors. Due to a certain seal, the common borders had been on the benefiting end which secured them a stable mountainous region.
Something that was sealed and could provide a certain order to this common boundary that was known to be chaotic. Could it be...
Rhode clenched his fists and glared at the Chairman's back.
If Rhode had heard of this news slightly earlier, he would've murdered the Chairman with no hesitation and forced the Country of Darkness to bear the responsibility. But... he couldn't do it now. What about the Munn Kingdom? Was Royal Highness Lydia really unaware of this at all? The Supervisor... That position had always been strange. Now it seemed that this so-called Supervisor wasn't monitoring the region, but was monitoring something else here?
If Royal Highness Lydia knew everything that is happening, why did she send me here?
Or perhaps, there is something that I'm unaware but Royal Highness Lydia is fully aware of?
Rhode placed his finger by his lips and commanded resolutely. "Marlene, retreat immediately."