Ann was looking much better when Rhode returned to the drawing room. Perhaps thanks to Marlene and Lize's comfort, the young lady no longer looked as pained anymore. She stood up and gazed at Rhode worriedly as though a convict on the defendant's seat apprehensively waiting for the judge to announce his judgment.
"I've understood your situation."
Rhode said without any hesitation. Ann shivered and looked at the man before her. However, before she had the chance to speak, Rhode swiftly spoke his mind.
"Miss Clark, you can stay in my Land of Atonement. The dark energy inside you is nothing more than a sequela left from the Cultists' ritual. It's a pity that this energy has merged with your soul and can't be removed. You can only accept your fate that you'll need to live on with this energy for the rest of your life. But you don't need to worry about this. I will get someone to resolve this problem for you. If you wish to stay in Land of Atonement, you will need to work for me. What do you think? Miss Clark, I don't keep any subordinates who idle around doing nothing."
Rhode's frightening words weren't just to scare her off. In fact, it was the truth. Even though Anne always ate and slept all day, she showed outstanding determination whenever she headed into battle. Even though Christie had no contributions in battle, she was still responsible for designing the Constructs for Lapis in the alchemy workshop. If Ann were to stay in the fortress, she would need to do some work too.
Ann nodded without any hesitation. This was her last hope as only death awaited her if Rhode didn't lend a helping hand to her. And now, since the Sir Overlord was willing to provide shelter for her, she was willing to do whatever he wanted!
Rhode nodded in satisfaction before turning around.
"Agatha, prepare a room for this young lady here. Miss Clark, its late now. Have a good rest and we'll discuss everything else tomorrow."
"Okay... Thank you very much, Sir Overlord."
After laying down the burden that had been bugging her for a long time, Ann quickly sensed deep exhaustion hitting her heavily. She had been drowned in despair, worries, and the fear of death along the way. She hadn't had a good sleep in a while. Ever since she was forced to leave her home, every night had been torturous to her. Back then, surviving had become an extravagant hope for her. But now, the dark clouds clouding her mind finally dispersed. She bowed respectfully to Rhode and left the drawing room under Agatha's lead. Rhode shrugged before turning to the two young ladies.
"Marlene, Miss Clark will temporarily follow your lead starting tomorrow. You can let her play second fiddle and I think she's capable of that. I hope that you can educate her with some positive knowledge regarding dark energy so as to avoid her worrying if she will become a walking corpse one day."
"Yes, Mr. Rhode."
Marlene let out a chuckle and nodded swiftly. However, she knew that Rhode was serious about his remarks. Ordinary people who weren't educated in magical knowledge treated all magical and spiritual powers as though the curse of the Devils. As a Mage, Marlene definitely wouldn't tolerate such ignorant behavior. In fact, even if Rhode didn't mention it, Marlene would also find the right time to talk to Ann about it. After all, this problem wasn't a small one.
Humans were always afraid of the unknown and deep fear would only lead to two outcomes: one would either escape or yield to extreme fear. It was just like the phrase 'if you can't beat them, join them'. There were many times when those born with gifted strength failed to overcome the concept of fear in their mind and ended up falling from grace and becoming the thing they feared the most. This way, there would be nothing that they were afraid of anymore.
Rhode turned around.
"I guess this matter regarding Miss Clark will spread throughout the entire Land of Atonement in a few days. I want you to represent us in speaking to the Church about this. Inform them about the truth and seek their corporation."
"No problem, Mr. Rhode."
Lize agreed without any hesitation. After receiving their affirmations, Rhode finally felt relieved.
In fact, even though Rhode had acted apathetically to Ann, he actually valued her highly as she would be a great addition to his forces.
In fact, when he had heard from Shauna that Ann had sought assistance from them, an idea cropped up in his head. Rhode lacked manpower the most. In terms of politics, the schoolmates whom Marlene had recruited could barely fill the gaps. But there was a distinct shortcoming in another aspect-and that was business.
Even though Rhode had been working with several trade associations, they were simply partners, after all. The only merchant he had authority over was Matt. But Rhode wouldn't hand over every business operations to the fat merchant. First, one shouldn't put all eggs in one basket. Secondly, Matt was a wily old fox, after all. Although he worked well with Rhode, he was still an adult who had gone through challenging experiences while climbing up the business world and cultivated his personality and independence. Even though he felt delightful working with Rhode, it wasn't possible for him to stay loyal. Moreover, Matt had built up his own career from scratch and there were many times he wished to be responsible for his own business. This was a factor of objective. Rhode couldn't possibly request Matt to sell his family away and give all his life to him. However, Rhode currently didn't have great candidates on hand and could only temporarily make do with what he had. Marlene was born in a noble family. Even though she had a keen political mind about the general picture, she held the arrogance of the nobles and wasn't interested in interacting with lower classes like the merchants. Rhode also couldn't imagine Marlene being a traveling merchant and bargaining with others... The image didn't match her at all.
He didn't need to consider Lize as a choice because while she might be a kind young lady, kindness would be a lethal flaw as a merchant. Besides, Lize wasn't great in this aspect either. As for the others... They weren't even worth mentioning.
It was due to this that an idea cropped up in Rhode's mind after he received Shauna's report.
Even though he didn't have too many interactions with Ann Clark, he understood a little about her background after rescuing her back then. She was born into a merchant family in Cole Plateau and was the eldest daughter of the Clark family. She lived a decent life and there weren't any ridiculous rumors about this rich young lady. Most of the comments about her was that she was a quiet and obedient young girl. Apart from this, she had also inherited her father's talent in commercial business. After Ann turned 15, she had often followed her father for commercial negotiations while her father had praised her highly.
Of course, it might be an overstatement, judging that the praises were from her father. But even so, this was a great start for Rhode. If he could make use of her talent, it would be great for Starlight and the business development of Grenbell. Besides, unlike Matt, Ann had been cut off from her close ones and could only rely on herself to survive in this world. Rhode wasn't worried that she would become a traitor. It would be good enough as long as she wholeheartedly worked for him.
The only problem now was that this young lady wasn't as capable as the rumors had mentioned. After all, after meeting Ann for a few times, Rhode did acknowledge that she was indeed quiet, submissive, and innocent-looking. However, he didn't spot any outstanding talent in her in terms of commerce. Of course, Rhode currently didn't have any business matters to hand over to her yet.
However, Rhode had other means for her even if her business talent was exaggerated. She had undoubtedly received proper education as she was born into a wealthy family. Even if she didn't have any business talent, she would still be a great asset serving as Marlene's support.
This was only a brief interlude for Rhode.
Under the same starry sky, there was an unprecedented commotion on the other distant side.
The senior slammed the letter on the table. He gritted his teeth and with an ashen expression, he read every beautiful, graceful words written on the letter inlaid with gold by its edge. However, the graceful words were as though slithering vipers. Disgusting! The crowd who sat around the round table before him gazed with unique expressions. Some were worried, and others furious and looking at him in disdain. Even though the meeting hall was in complete silence, it couldn't conceal the surging billows.
"Everyone. What do you think of this?"
The senior sat down hurriedly as he realized that his actions were inappropriate. One of the men in the crowd who wore a black formal suit laughed grimly.
"The Munn Kingdom is protesting against us? What kind of joke is this? The investigations team was approved unanimously by us, Light Parliament. They hold sufficient authority to do anything, anywhere. Since they have found the possible culprits of the Ocean Trade Route incident, it is only right that they capture them back for interrogation. But now, not only did the Munn Kingdom resist using force, but they also wish to gain the upper hand by a show of strength? We shouldn't remain silent any longer. We must protest in the strongest way possible and request the Munn Kingdom to hand over the culprits. If they aren't willing..."
"Then? Don't tell me you want to dispatch troops to deal with the Munn Kingdom?"
Before the man finished his sentence, another man seated opposite him extended his arm and pushed up his spectacles. He said in an ice-cold tone.
"What can we do to the Munn Kingdom based on the current situation?"
"We have to bring out the honor of the Light Parliament and show them what we're worth! The investigations team represent the prestige of the Light Parliament! How should we give grounds for the justice, freedom, and fairness that we've been persisting all this while if we allow the tyrant of the Munn Kingdom and her lackeys to humiliate us? Besides, what will the other territorial leaders think about us if they know about this?"
"Now isn't the time to discuss this. We should pay attention to more important practical issues! The financial income for Country of Light has been terrible for the year due to unusual movements in the Ocean Trade Route and poor harvest in surrounding border regions. What if the tyrant of the Munn Kingdom cuts off the funding to us if we pose a tough attitude toward them?"
"What in the world are you talking about? Aren't the freedom and justice that our generations who have used blood and sweat to exchange for enough to match gold coins that are filled with the stink of copper? Are you insulting the ideals and beliefs our ancestors have held?"
"I don't mean that. I just want you guys to treat this issue with a more practical view. Due to the series of problems back then, there is serious dissatisfaction among the people against the Light Parliament. If we don't receive funding from the Munn Kingdom this year, there will be a huge hole in our capital chain. We don't have enough on our hands to fill this gap anymore. If we lose their funding, at least three of our territories will declare bankrupcy instantly. How should we resolve this problem? Don't tell me we should increase taxes? Is this what you wish to see? The people of Barce, Glenk, and Drex are already resentful that the Light Parliament used their hard-earned taxes to assist remote regions instead. If we were to increase taxes, the support for the Light Parliament would surely fall! Besides, the new year is..."
The place fell into complete silence.
No one spoke. But everyone knew what that parliament member's words meant. The upcoming year would be an election year, which occurred every quadrennial, and the people's support was the most important. However, the Light Parliament didn't satisfy the people for the past two years and this year, the Ocean Trade Route incident and subsequent problems left the Light Parliament in a huge headache. Many of the financial groups had expressed their dissatisfaction. Not only that, but people were also resentful that the Light Parliament didn't resolutely assist the Reformist Party. Back then, the Light Parliament watched on as the cruel tyrant of the Munn Kingdom suppressed the Reformist Party. According to investigations, the support for the Light Parliament led by this senior chairman had dropped from 48% to 35%. On the contrary, the opposition parties were eyeing the chairman's seat covetously.
"It is due to this that we need to present a strong side for the people and let them know that we're not afraid of the threats from a tyrant! Our Country of Light is still the beacon for freedom, justice, and ideal on this continent!"
"But empty promises can't fill our stomachs. If we can't replenish the financial hole, how should we answer to the interrogations of the lower chamber? Besides, the Munn Kingdom is an independent nation. According to the Light Dragon's rule, we have no rights to interfere in their internal affairs. We have protested against the brutal repression that has taken place in their territory and done our part. It is meaningless to keep persisting on with this matter!"
The man who snarled was filled with indignation. At this moment, they were reminded of the fact that the Munn Kingdom was a sovereign and independent nation.
The senior puckered his brows. He pressed his hand on his forehead and let out a long sigh. The letter had left him feeling vexed. Of course, he knew what Lydia was up to when she protested at such a timing. But... He couldn't do anything to stop her. What could he do? The senior sulked and gazed exhaustedly at the parliament members contending with one another on strong grounds. He was the one who had decided to dispatch the investigations team because he wished to serve for another term of office and it required the support from huge financial groups in the Country of Light. The Ocean Trade Route incident had caused a certain extent of damage and influence to various financial groups. In order to appease them, the senior had to do something. But now, he realized that his hopes of serving for another term of office were getting uncertain. But was he willing to give up just like that?
The senior held the armrest on his chair subconsciously.
Suddenly, a deep voice sounded.
"Everyone. I have a plan to resolve this problem."
Everyone stopped their discussion and turned to the man. He stood to his feet and gazed at his companions with confidence and arrogance.
"I guess everyone is clear that the Dragon Soul Ceremony is coming up soon... Perhaps, we can make an issue out of it."