The young lady sat on the steps while strumming the lute with her delicate, slender hands gracefully. The beautiful melody resounded in the room along with her movements and in an instant, it felt as though the entire world had been filled with mellifluous melody. The birds on the branches by the window admired the wonderful chords silently.
The melody was like a soft, clear stream meandering through the forest. But, it soon turned into boundless waves as though a leisurely floating boat on a river had met a storm. It struggled to hang on under swelling waves and whirlpools, but the waves eventually engulfed the little boat. The boat was tossed into the air and was dragged back down immediately. However, no matter how ferocious the waves were, the boat continued to stay afloat... until the storm weakened and the sky cleared gradually. The blue sky and dazzling sun enveloped Mother Earth while the peaceful boat welcomed the warm sun rays...
"Your music is as melodious as always, Gaya," Lydia squinted and smiled at the young lady before her kindly. The golden sun rays spilled in the window and illuminated Lydia's dewy skin, which deflected a layer of faint halo. The translucent silk muslin around her body displayed her incomparably elegant curves vaguely.
"Thank you for your compliment, Your Highness." The young lady named Gaya lowered her head gracefully. "This, after all, is only a story... And it is merely impossible in reality... No matter how hard one tries, it is extremely difficult for a small boat to survive a storm."
"But it is still possible, right?" Lydia caressed Gaya's cheek gently. She lifted the young lady's chin and gazed into her pitch-black, serene eyes.
"If the performer herself carries no hope, the 'seven-stringed zither' in your hands will be devastated. Besides... Beauty isn't the only way of living. Surviving the storm and basking in the sun once again is a natural display of beauty. However, even if the boat sank and disappeared into the deep ocean, it is equally a silent, yet shattered beauty. Even though one is overcome by the reality of fate, the spirit in struggling until the end and the unwillingness to sink is also a kind of enchanting beauty. The sense of despair in the face of death and heroic mentality to hang on is equally fascinating..."
"Does Your Highness thinks that fate can be changed?" The young lady gazed at the Duchess before her silently.
"This isn't something that I can decide on. The beauty of fate lies in its uncertainty. Besides, if fate has been decided, one will still move on with different routes that one chooses. Although the routes end up in the same destination, the scenery is unique. Calming one's mind and enjoying the gift of fate is also extremely important..." Lydia paused for a moment. "Furthermore, in the face of blazing emotions, perhaps one will still be lost in the flames and fog even though it is eventually the route of fate."
"Emotions are flames that bring us warmth and a sense of security. But it can also bring darkness and dangers. We can never leave its side because it is a way for us to experience the life that we are living. An ice-cold world without emotions is as though a wilderness without vitality. That is a kind of desolation and a heart-rending charm." Lydia looked at the musician's slightly uneasy expression.
"Your Highness, is it really fine? A little inattentiveness in Soraka Mountain and there will be huge problems."
"Don't worry, Gaya. Although the matter depends on individuals, we shouldn't be overhasty. I have done what I can, but... We can never fathom emotions. One can never predict everyone's thoughts and actions. After all, you're not the person and I'm not too. Moreover, although the situation seems to be fine, the Reformist Party is still a cause for worry. I can't leave Golden City and head to Soraka Mountain just like this. If not, this will get out of control." The young Duchess displayed a gentle smile. "Alright, don't put up a bitter face anymore. You don't want to waste such a pretty little face. Besides, I do have some ideas up my sleeves. I sent someone capable of clearing up the mess there. Come to think of it, this person is also from your hometown, Gaya."
"I have never heard of someone called 'Rhode Alander' from the Eastern Plains. Your Highness, although he performed strikingly in the Midsummer Festival, I think he is just a liar who has concealed his identity. Please be careful of him," Gaya cautioned as she gripped her musical instrument.
"You can't say that, Gaya. Everyone has their own secrets. Besides... I am somewhat aware of his background." Lydia squinted her eyes slightly.
"Eh?" Gaya was taken aback.
Lydia laid back on the couch and shut her eyes. "Can I listen to another song, Gaya? The part on the Star Chapter in the Creation Poem."
"No problem, Your Highness," Gaya nodded and adjusted her seating position. Then, the graceful music and the young lady's melodious voice rang in Lydia's ears. "The lost travelers under the boundless sky..."
An unstable atmosphere was brewing in Mithril Hall.
Rhode stood by the staircase on the second floor while observing the venue below with knitted brows. He didn't enter the standby room with the Supervisor. Although he knew that they were debating on a life and death problem, Rhode had no interest in minding this unimportant issue to him. On the contrary, he had a hunch that Lydia had sent him here for another purpose. Even though he couldn't find the reason, he sensed that the situation wasn't this simple based on his relationship with Royal Highness Lydia in the game.
Rhode held onto Lydia's letter in the folds of his clothes. There wasn't anything special in the contents of this letter. Apart from ordering Rhode to take over the mission and escort the Chairman back safely, there were also orders on how to manage the developments of the situation in Soraka Mountain. On the surface, although these words seemed extremely normal, Rhode felt that there must be some mysterious principle behind it.
It was hard for Rhode to determine whether his instinct was right. After all, he was clear that Royal Highness Lydia had the tendency to let matters take their own course. There were many times when Lydia appointed a goal for her men and allowed them to complete the task however they wanted. She would evaluate the results and as this Duchess was well known for her tough 'aesthetical logic', one would be unpleasant to her eyes if one's method was overly messy or barbaric. Considering this perspective, the meaning behind Lydia's letter surely was to allow Rhode to handle the troublesome matters that were about to happen in Soraka Mountain. If that were the case, this was a huge responsibility.
Does Royal Highness Lydia think that highly of me?
Although Rhode had been in this world for a long time, his thinking as a gamer hadn't changed too much. According to him, his prestige in the Munn Kingdom was most likely around the 'Friend' or 'Respectl' level. He could forget about 'Worship', not to mention 'Reverence'. For a mission like this that could determine the future of the Munn Kingdom, surely he would require at least 'Respect' level and above.
Or perhaps, she found something out?
Rhode shifted his attention to the twin daggers by his waist. From the start, Rhode didn't ponder too much about these two magical weapons that Lydia had gifted him. After all, it matched Royal Highness Lydia's nature for her to present a wonderful reward to Rhode for his efforts, However, ever since Celia and Celestina pointed out that these two daggers belonged to the Holy Sword Card Deck, Rhode had a thought regarding their identity.
Is Royal Highness Lydia aware of something? If not, why would she give me two weapons of the Holy Sword Card Deck so 'coincidentally'? These two daggers don't make sense since I have always been using a single-handed sword. Royal Highness Lydia clearly knew about this and she purposely gifted two daggers. Double-handed swordsmanship and single-handed swordsmanship are totally different at times.
Is this pure coincidence, or...
Rhode shivered slightly. For unknown reasons, he realized that the surroundings had turned colder. He lifted his head subconsciously and gazed outside the window, but a mist had blocked his vision.
Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the standby room felt as though it was a gunpowder bucket that was about to erupt.
"If the seal is truly broken, we don't stand a chance in stopping that hateful presence from coming back to this world!" One of the parliament members yelled as he brandished his arms.
"That is only a folklore!" The Chairman glared at the man and he realized that several of the members' thoughts had wavered. However, not all the parliament members had decided to go against his orders. The next issue was how he could convince them. Actually, this was a dilemma. No one was willing to live under the domination of the Undead Creatures. But if they couldn't maintain themselves now, their future would be equally meaningless.
This was a choice. A choice for the future or present.
Of course, they would lose their most precious possession no matter how they chose and there was no way out for the people in Soraka Mountain's Parliament right now. They sat on their chairs while clenching their fists tightly. After a few moments, one of them spoke in uncertainty. "I understand your views, Mr. Chairman. But, I'm really worried. Therefore, I would like to ask if you have any solutions for this upcoming disaster?"
"According to the Supervisor, from the loosening of the Seal to the opening of the Aperture, it will take at least one to two years." Regarding this issue, the Chairman had thought about it since a long time back.
"But we do have a solution. I guess all of you have forgotten that our ancestors once passed on a 'protection' to us for this matter. We spent countless manpower and finances over these centuries just for this day. I have decided to activate the Plane of Existence Ritual Circle immediately."
"What you mean is..." Another member stood to his feet as he clenched his fists.
"This is a very dangerous thing to do, Mr. Chairman! The Ritual Circle that our ancestors passed on will smash the Sealed Aperture and destabilize the Order! For so many years, the Order of Soraka Mountain has been weakening and strange weather and occasional earthquakes are the proof! If we activate the Ritual Circle to smash the Sealed Aperture, the entire Soraka Mountain will sink into utter chaos! Even if we manage to secure the Order, it is hard to determine if the remaining portions are able to support our survival!"
"But this is a solution that our ancestors had left for us, after all," the Chairman replied firmly. In fact, this was Soraka Mountain's secret. On this continent, only a handful knew why the Soraka Mountain could survive perfectly between the two Dragon Souls. This was because there was an unprecedented, massive monster sealed below them. The monster was so powerful that it required both Dragon Souls to banish and seal it entirely. Its formidable powers were enough to neutralize most of the Chaos Forcefield even though it laid sealed. This was the reason why humans could live here peacefully.
If the Aperture was crushed by the Ritual Circle, it would mean that the monster's strength would be weakened. This would also mean that the powers to protect this region would be crippled. No one could promise that the Chaos Forcefield wouldn't restore itself and devour all of them.
How ironic. Humans sealed the monsters they were afraid of, and yet, they wished to manipulate it to maintain their own safety.
"The Sealed Aperture will weaken its strength. But don't ever forget that its strength is also slowly increasing," the Chairman gestured with a stern expression. "I hope all of you don't forget why the monster's strength was so weak when it was first sealed and yet, our ancestors managed to survive in this unstable environment. As of now, its powers are growing day by day. Even though our land is graced by the Chaos Forcefield... We have become timid. We have lost our courage to face disasters. What are all of you worried about? Indeed, smashing the Aperture will weaken the monster and we may face a chaotic disaster that we have never faced before. But this will only happen once and time will slowly pass. We will get back on our feet and overcome the tests. We do not need to betray our present or future. All we need to do is to stay determined with the pride of ourselves as the people of Soraka Mountain."
The Chairmen caught his breath and as though he had decided, he continued. "Without a doubt, I know what all of you are thinking and I understand your concerns. Therefore, if our Ritual Circle failed... I will head to the Country of Darkness and seek their protection myself."
"Mr. Chairman..." Everyone stared in disbelief. They knew exactly how much sacrifice and determination was entailed in those words.
"It doesn't matter if I get to keep my pride. I can just admit that I'm senile at the very least, but as long as Soraka Mountain can continue to survive, it doesn't matter." The Chairman lifted his head and gazed at everyone.
"Now, does anyone have any objections?"
No one spoke.
All the parliament members lowered their heads in shame. They were reminded of the responsibilities and beliefs that they used to uphold. But now, they felt that this was good enough.
At this moment, a voice broke the silence.
"Have you decided?" The Chairman gazed towards the Angel who stood by the door silently. He pondered for a few seconds before nodding his head firmly. "Yes, I've decided, Madam Supervisor."
Then, the ground shook.