The sky darkened gradually. Gazing out of the window, a distinct, scarlet speck of flames in the city shone upon the frosty surface, enveloped by descending, fluttering snowflakes. Contrasting with the dark clouds above, the scenery was tranquil and picturesque.
Lydia laid languidly on the scarlet velvet sofa in a plain white robe that wrapped around her graceful figure. The burning flames in the fireplace brought warmth to the chilly, spacious room.
The melodious sound of harp resounded in the room. Lydia lifted the letter to her eye level and scanned the content. She let out a soft giggle and the melody came to a spontaneous end.
"Your Highness, did you read something interesting again?"
Gaya sat on the floor with her legs crossed while holding onto the harp beside her. She looked up and gazed curiously at Lydia. Lydia extended her hand with a smile. Along with this movement, the letter between her fingers drifted across the room like a light feather and landed in Gaya's hands. The black-haired young lady gazed at Lydia's crafty smile before lowering her sight to the letter. Then, she stared blankly.
"... A report regarding the clash with the Country of Light's investigations team?"
Lydia widened her smile. She sat up straight and crossed her arms as though a young girl anticipating a Christmas present.
"This is the report from the overlord of Grenbell. His subordinates and him have encountered the ambush of the investigations team. Both parties got into a conflict and thereafter, the overlord of Grenbell delivered this report over."
"Is it that guy again?"
Surprisingly, the always-detached-Gaya curled her lips like a willful child. However, Lydia wasn't mindful of her response. She gazed at Gaya playfully as the latter read out every word in the letter. Then, Gaya lifted her head and placed the letter on the table.
"What do you intend to do, Your Highness?"
"Isn't it obvious?"
Lydia revealed a smile that was warmer than the brilliant sun in June.
"Although I've given the Country of Light investigations team permission to enter our territory, raiding and attempting to arrest an overlord is behavior that has crossed the line. The Country of Light seems to think that our Munn Kingdom is a territory under them and not an independent nation. I will immediately protest to the Light Parliament. As for the conflict with the investigations team, we will need to make them leave."
Gaya shook her head in silence and gazed at Lydia, who stepped to the table and wrote a letter swiftly. After a few moments, Gaya let out a sigh.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Your Highness?"
"Of course, my adorable little Gaya. The Country of Light has been poking their noses into our matters too much recently. The Dragon Soul Ceremony is coming up and such preparations are essential before the grand opening ceremony, okay? The more prepared we are, the more bustling and memorable the ceremony will be." Lydia put down the feather pen and sealed the envelope. Then, she stood up and clapped for attention. Shortly after, a Battle Angel opened the door, entered the room and bowed respectfully. Lydia handed the envelope to her.
"Get the Royal Mage Guards to deliver this envelope to the Light Parliament through the night and ensure that the Chairman receives it personally. Huhuhu. I guess it's gonna be a long night for them."
The Battle Angel took over the envelope and left swiftly. At this moment, Lydia brought a gentle smile to the long French window and admired the snowy view.
"You see, Gaya. Nature is wonderful and incomparable. It has a passionate, fiery side and also a soft, gentle side. The immaculate snow bundles everything within like a mother waiting anxious;y to give birth to her precious child. The child will eventually grow, mature, and die... But death isn't the eternal end. Instead, it's the start of a new life."
"It's only snow, Your Highness."
Gaya stroked her fingers along the harp strings and crisp notes echoed in the room. The melodic tune flowed like clear running water and brought a poetic flavor to the snowy scenery.
"It sounds beautiful, Gaya..."
Lydia shut her eyes and mumbled to herself.
"Back then, the snowy night was similar to this..."
Lydia had as though returned to that night from several years ago. The descending, fluttering snow as though concealed all the crimes and sins-conflagrations. Smoke from the aftermath. Death. Everything had been covered by snow, the contrasting crimson blood staining the ground.
Lydia had clutched her swords and gazed at the male corpse before her. He was a Human. A Human's desire for power always blinded their rational and drove them into some crazy actions. He craved to challenge traditions, rules, and himself. But in the end, he failed. Not only him, but his family too.
Suddenly, a bell twinkled. Lydia turned around and saw a black-haired little girl who was about 6 to 7 years old hugging a toy wooden harp in her tiny arms. There were no traces of impurity in her big, round black pupils. She took tiny steps to the male corpse and shook his shoulder lightly. But, the lifeless man didn't respond to her calling. The little girl lifted her head and gazed at the Archangel.
"Is he dead?"
"Yes, he's dead."
Lydia looked into the little girl's eyes and nodded. The latter lowered her head and gazed at the corpse in silence. After a few moments, she lifted her head again.
"Did you kill my father?"
Her voice was totally void of emotion. There wasn't any traces of hatred, wrath, and fear.
Lydia simply nodded. Then... the little girl revealed a smile.
"Alright then. From now onwards, you'll be my owner, Big Sister."
"It has been a long while..."
Gaya played the final note of the musical piece. Lydia opened her eyes and turned to the black-haired young lady behind her. Gaya sensed her gaze and lifted her head to display a smile in response-an incredibly beautiful smile that was as clear and pure as spring water.
"Your Highness. You don't have to trouble yourself over it. The strongest survive in this world. My father was weak. He had foolishly chosen to challenge the strong and lost. That was the results of being weak. I never sympathized with my father for his silly choice. He had chosen a wrong path and received his consequences. Back on that snowy day, I made my decision when I saw you standing by my father's corpse. I favor the strong and as long as you remain strong, I will follow, serve, and contribute my everything to you."
Lydia revealed a witty smile.
"In other words, you will leave me if I'm defeated? Is that right, Little Gaya?"
"Of course, Your Highness. Your failure means that you no longer have the power to protect yourself, this country, and its people. Since that is the case, you're nothing more than a weak being even if you're an Archangel... I will leave your side when you're defeated and the country crumbles because I will not follow the weak. They don't have the right and ability. They aren't for us to follow, but to dominate instead. They don't have the authority to rule the world. I only abide by the orders from the strong and not prayers of the weak. Compassion for them is just sinful forgiveness that doesn't have any effects at all."
Gaya spoke sincerely. Her smile was still as bright and sweet. Lydia stuck out her little tongue.
"That's really strict, Little Gaya. Is this your answer as my friend or subordinate?"
"... As your subordinate, of course, Your Highness. If I were to express my thoughts as a friend, I don't wish to see the arrival of that day... But if that day comes, I will fulfill your wish before I leave you. This is my promise to you as a friend."
"Thank you for your honesty, Little Gaya."
"You're welcome, Your Highness."
The snow fluttered without any intentions of stopping. Everything fell into silence. On the other side, the scenery in the Fortress in Land of Atonement presented a different view.
"The report has been delivered to Royal Highness Lydia. Do you think this is a good choice, Mr. Rhode?"
Lize puckered her brows worriedly.
After Rhode returned to the Fortress, he had explained the entire happenings to Marlene, got her to write a report about the clash in her name and deliver it to the Royal Family. Lize was shocked that Rhode actually fought Lauren face to face and even killed members of the investigations team. Even though she belonged to the Royal Family and naturally had a lack of favorable impressions of the Country of Light, her nature was relatively peaceful. Although she was furious that the investigations team tried to detain Rhode and his subordinates, she felt that Rhode had taught them a sufficient lesson and he actually wished to take one step farther... Was this really fine? Besides, Lize was rather concerned that if Lydia was aware that Rhode and the people of the Country of Light had broken out into a fight... What would she think about it?
Besides, in Rhode's description, he had pushed all responsibilities to the investigations team and listed out their crimes: encircling and detaining his subordinates without official permission, laying their hands on the overlord and others... Even though this was the truth, Lize felt that something was amiss.
"Of course, Lize. Don't worry."
In contrast, Marlene was unconcerned.
"No matter what Rhode has done to them, the investigations team only has themselves to blame. Besides, Rhode's actions were sensible. Even though they were in the wrong at first, they suffered grave losses judging from Rhode's descriptions. If they were to deliver the report ahead of us, perhaps it would be disadvantageous. They could hide the truth of their rude behavior and emphasize that they were victims of Rhode's abuse. This way, the Light Parliament may possibly apply pressure on us and in order to prevent this, we have to deliver our report as soon as possible so we can gain the upper hand."
"Marlene is right."
Rhode nodded in satisfaction. However, this wasn't solely the truth. Rhode's main reason to send out the report was to take the lead because he knew how shameless the Country of Light people was. They had sent over the investigations team in the purpose of smearing the reputation of the Munn Kingdom before taking advantage of the predicament. Although Rhode felt great to vent his frustrations on them, he was sure that this was within the Light Parliament's expectations as the investigations team was basically a bait thrown out by the Light Parliament. If no one took the bait, they would tyrannize the Munn Kingdom people. If one took the bait, they would have the chance to open fire on Munn Kingdom...
Even though Rhode had swallowed the bait, it didn't mean that he was willing to be fished out and cooked by them. Therefore, he immediately got Marlene to write up a report and sign it off with his stamp as Grenbell's overlord. The report was then delivered to Golden City through the magical teleportation and handed over to Lydia. Rhode didn't need to care about what happened next. But he believed that Lydia would make a right judgment over this.
As for the secondary reason... As the saying 'it is impolite not to reciprocate' went, the Light Parliament tried to stir trouble, and Rhode wouldn't hold back in getting back to them by provoking their internal department.
As a parliamentary country, the internal conflicts in the Country of Light had always been ongoing. Even though Rhode wasn't a Country of Light player, he had often read on the forums about the various political forces in the Country of Light and financial groups clashing with players of military organizations. It had always been a serious issue in the internal Light Parliament in fighting for power. Rhode knew that the conflict between the military and Light Parliament had broken out because Lauren joined the investigations team without his personal guards by his side. This was actually the Light Parliament's scheme to kill two birds with one stone. If one was able to destroy the investigations team's plan, Lauren, as one of the most reputable and strongest among the investigations team, would have to bear the blame. Besides, Rhode had also observed that the investigations team didn't acknowledge Lauren as their superior through their clash. But this wasn't strange as this was their tradition.
The Country of Light was considered a more exotic nation on the entire Dragon Soul Continent. In other countries, the formidable beings were respected as they should be and also held high positions. But it was disparate in Country of Light. The strong might hold high positions, but in terms of respect... it was hard to say. In fact, even though there were countless formidable beings in the Country of Light, their lives were hard as they believed in the equality of life. They despised authority and it was due to this that they were armed with vigilance instead of a mindset for worship to the formidable beings. Besides, the Country of Light often had this view that even though formidable beings were indeed strong, they were still ordinary beings. Perhaps they might be capable of razing down a town with an extension of their arms, they still existed as Humans. They had family members who needed to survive in this society and world. If no one provided them with shelter and food, they would still be in precarious situations! Besides, what if one was formidable? One's family couldn't possibly be as strong. They would still need to live in this society with ordinary Humans.
Therefore, we don't need to fear the strong! Without our help, their strength would be meaningless!
Of course, the essence of this statement was to make the people not succumb to the fear and oppression of powerful forces. However, this statement became twisted under the influence of the Light Parliament. It was especially so after they grasped the Creator Dragon Soul successfully. The attitude of the entire Country of Light and its people took a drastic turn to the other extreme. In their opinion, even a presence like the Creator Dragon Soul wasn't able to leave their side and had to rely on them for support, so wasn't it the same for formidable beings? Slowly, the people believed that they were more honorable and mightier than formidable beings, so they didn't give a damn about the two Archangels who protected the Creator Dragon Soul.
This was why formidable beings had to act carefully in the Country of Light as they might possibly be accused of using their powerful strength to bully the weak. They would then be suspected of being an authoritarian tyrant who abused their strength and their families would also sink into a storm of accusations and criticisms. Although there were formidable beings that had left the Country of Light due to such treatments, most of them stayed behind helplessly as they held high positions in the nation and had huge families. Therefore, it wasn't an easy matter for them to leave the country just like that. Moreover, they had to shoulder a blackened name after leaving the country and this was intolerable for those who treated reputation as more important than their lives.
This had also become one of the reasons for the tense relationship between the Country of Light and the Munn Kingdom. The cultural background from both sides had determined this point. Country of Light people believed that they had the 'higher' system of values in this world where everyone was equal and no one could override others. They naturally saw themselves as 'superior' and defended freedom, fairness, and justice.
On the contrary, Lydia, who used her authority as an Archangel to push about the people, was undoubtedly deemed as a tyrant. Those who faced Lydia's tyranny and had no rebellious beliefs were naturally 'inferior slaves'. They lacked the courage of revolution and to face death! They didn't know that freedom and justice would not befall without countless deaths!
They said it well, since they weren't the ones who were dying. If the Munn Kingdom could stand united and revolt Lydia's 'tyranny', it would still be for the best if the bloodbath flowed into a river with corpses lay across the country because regeneration was only possible with destruction. Without the countless sacrifices, how are you people going to receive the true freedom and justice? Your deaths will be worth it and respected. We will watch the magnificent show of your performance with tears in our eyes and cheer for your bravery!
Due to such a background, Rhode was confident that the Light Parliament would pin all the responsibilities on Lauren and also dampen the arrogance of the military. Meanwhile, the Country of Light military wasn't any pushover and they would definitely kick up a fuss with the Light Parliament over it. Moreover, the Light Parliament's Chairman had an unstable position this year and younger groups were also clashing heads with senior groups.
Heh heh heh...
Rhode laughed inwardly at the possible internal disorder in the Light Parliament.
Lize and Marlene gazed at Rhode before looking at each other curiously. At this moment, someone knocked on the door and broke the silence. Then, Agatha's apathetic voice sounded.
"Reporting, Sir. Miss Shauna is requesting to see you."
Rhode returned to his senses and he felt rather strange. After he returned from Golden City previously, he made Shauna responsible for external reception and liaison work. However, this job was considered as logistics housekeeping and there shouldn't be any serious issues she couldn't resolve. It was currently late at night and she surely wouldn't look for him just for tea and chit-chat. So, what would it be about?
"Let her in."
Shauna opened the room door and entered.
This woman who once led a mercenary group for a living appeared completely different. She had taken off her leather armor and wore a comfortable, flowy dress, which made her look much more gentle. As her main job scope could be considered as dealing with public relations, it wasn't necessary for her to be fully-equipped in armor. As Rhode's representative to meet with external parties, Shauna had to interact with many people, so she couldn't behave like an ordinary mercenary like she did in the past. Fortunately, she was still capable at social intercourse after leading a mercenary group for years, which was why she had done well up until this point. She was also satisfied with such a life as she wasn't too ambitious and she only hoped to prove herself. Her life now was comfortable and she didn't need to risk her life everyday like a mercenary, so she didn't have too many complaints.
Shauna bowed respectfully to everyone present and lifted her head.
"I'm truly sorry for disturbing you while you're on a busy schedule, Sir Overlord."
"It's fine. Is anything the matter?"
"This was what happened..."
Shauna revealed a helpless look.
"The young lady who you had me send to Cole Plateau..."
Rhode thought of the young lady who he rescued when he, Mini Bubble Gum, and Canary visited the Saint Monastery. Ann had recovered after resting for several days and he dispatched his subordinates to send her back to her home in Cole Plateau. Rhode had also informed her family and they were thrilled and thankful that their daughter could return to their side, safe and sound. He assigned Shauna to handle this matter and he threw this matter to the back of his head. Now, it seemed that there were some problems along the way.
Shauna paused as she didn't know how to continue her explanations. After a few moments, she said helplessly.
"She... has been sent back to us."