The first thing that Rhode saw when he entered the room was a fluffy, swaying tail that he hadn't seen for a long time.
"Ah... Master, I'm back~!"
The fox-eared young lady threw herself into Rhode's arms. She rested her head on his chest. Her soft body trembled in comfort.
"Boohoo. This trip has been really hard, Master. I've been to so many places and met with a lot of dangers... You have no idea how many baddies eyed me. I was almost kidnapped and sold away by them. Not only that, but I'm also no longer pure. Mr. Old Walker... Boohoo. He looks to be a decent man, but he's a terrible, crafty pervert at night. My body has acclimatized to a promiscuous slave even without him around. Along the way, Mr. Old Walker sold me for my body more than once and I was manhandled by the filthy men. Master, sorry... I've been stained. From now onward, my body and heart belongs to Mr. Old Walker..."
Rhode listened with an emotionless face. On the other hand, Marlene and the others raised their heads and looked dubiously at the old man sitting in the corner. Old Walker stood up hurriedly with the alcohol bottle in his hand and waved his arms in denial.
"Hey hey hey, don't listen to that little rascal. I'm already so old. Where do you think I'd find the energy to mess around? Also, she would've been burned me to death if I tried to do anything!"
Gillian unrolled a vibrant smile on her beautiful, tear-stained face. "Heh heh. Sure enough, it's still the most fun to do this when I'm back. But Master..." she paused and gazed meaningfully at Anne. Then, she gave a chortle. "It seems that you've found the solution to help little Anne."
"Alright, that's all for the jokes."
Rhode patted on Gillian's head. Of course, he knew that this sly, little fox was kidding. She was his Core Card, and if she were to get into any trouble, he would be the first to know. Besides, she had a crafty personality and she might even be the one bringing trouble to others.
"Welcome, Miss Gillian. Long time no see."
Everyone returned to their senses from Gillian's characteristic greeting and sent their regards to her. But they were dubious about her return as they weren't aware of what she had been up to. All they knew was that Old Walker and her left together shortly after the end to the Paphield battle. Rhode didn't provide further explanations on their departure and all he said was that they were off to execute a special mission. Now that the duo was finally back, it was time to know where they had been to.
"Alright, let me in on the results of the Skynet Plan.
Rhode sat by the table and said. He also beckoned to Marlene and the others.
"Join us. This is essential to us."
"Alright, Master. Leave it to me."
Gillian stuck out her chest, lifted her head proudly, and swayed the fluffy tail behind her from left to right. She retrieved a map from the fold of her clothes and unrolled it above the table. Marlene and the rest had gathered around curiously. It was a map of the Dragon Soul Continent, drawn with several circles in scarlet and labeled with all sorts of symbols.
"Following Master's orders, Mr. Old Walker and I have settled our preparations in most regions of the Light Mainland, which include the Country of Light. Currently, there are about 30 pubs in this area... Meh. Even though we weren't able to set up pubs in every region, we've picked out the traffic hubs. The scale of the pubs aren't huge. In terms of the manpower we've recruited, Mr. Old Walker has a name list. They appear to be trustworthy and were mostly born in Munn Kingdom, as per Master's request."
Gillian took over the name list from Old Walker and handed it to Rhode. Rhode scanned the names and included them into his system data. Most of them didn't have high prestige. They were mostly hovering between 'Friendly' and with some minorities in 'Respectful'... But this was within Rhode's expectations.
"Did you attract any unwanted attention?"
Rhode scrutinized the map and said. Gillian shook her head.
"Don't worry. As most of the pub owners that we've gotten were honest chaps, there were no major problems apart from having some local ruffians and rogues coming to their doorsteps and asking for death."
Lize gazed at the map with suspicions. She looked at Rhode and couldn't figure out the meaning behind them.
"Mr. Rhode, I don't understand... Why do we need to run so many pubs? Besides... What is that Skynet Plan..."
"Aiya, Little Lize, those pubs weren't opened for nothing, okay?"
Gillian revealed a sly smile. Then, she extended her finger.
"Master has decided to use the pubs to form an intelligence network. With the pubs in place, we can easily obtain intelligence no matter from within or outside the Munn Kingdom as long as there is any activity. The intelligence will be sent to us using the long-distance transmission device produced by Little Lapis. We've divided the entire Light Mainland into ten regions and there is a person in charge in every region who collects and collates all the intelligence before sending it to us."
"How often will he be sending us the data?"
"This isn't the Internet age, after all, Master. As long as you're willing to put up with it, I will get him to send a report once every three days. It would be another matter if there are any emergencies."
"I will need more manpower, Kid."
Old Walker interrupted.
"I'm getting old. Perhaps my weary old body will give way soon if you don't provide more manpower for me."
"Don't worry about that, Mr. Walker. I will get the candidates ready."
"In other words, we're gonna have an intelligence network in future?"
Joey jumped up in exhilaration. As a Thief class, he knew how crucial an intelligence network was.
"Boss, since that's the case, we are gonna be the first to receive news if anything happens on this continent. That's awesome!"
"That's only a small part of it, Joey."
Rhode swept a glance at Joey.
"Gathering intelligence is only the start. Our ultimate goal is to disseminate the information with purpose."
Everyone looked in astonishment while Rhode nodded firmly.
"That's right. You guys still remember the behavior of the civilians in Golden City after we defeated Liberty Wings in the Midsummer Festival, right?"
Many of them nodded in agreement. Among the high-ups around Rhode, most of them had participated in the Midsummer Festival and they were aware of the civilian's reactions in Golden City. Rhode spread his arms apart and shrugged.
"Back then, most of the crowd who witnessed the competition hurled abuses at us, accused that we had an unfair advantage, and called us scheming, right?"
"That's because they are sore losers. Hmph. Leader, those scaredy-cats only dare to hide in the back and find excuses for themselves!"
Anne grumbled and let out a snort. But Rhode shook his head in denial.
"In fact, what they said were true. You guys still remember my plan before the battle commenced, right? I had intentions to diminish Rosen's battle desires through Lize, Joey, Anne, and Randolf, while I took him out on the battlefield. As long as Rosen was dead, the Liberty Wings would be down without any threat. Therefore, they weren't wrong about their accusations in this aspect. Honestly speaking, even our supporters didn't deny this. But unlike the opposition, our supports didn't see that as being scheming and shameless. Instead, it was a well-planned strategy. Besides, you guys may not know it, but there weren't too many of our supporters who witnessed the competition personally and yet, they supported us unwaveringly. On the contrary, those who witnessed the competition hated us to the core. Hmm... Of course, perhaps some of the overly brutal scenes were one of the causes."
Rhode swept a glance to Anne and the latter was baffled as she didn't know that Rhode was referring to her. At this moment, Lapis spoke hesitantly.
"But why, Sir? Why did those people who didn't watch the competition support us..."
"This is just an issue of perspective, Lapis."
Rhode shook his finger.
"You guys witnessed from the competition that most of the audience came from the South and were supporters of Liberty Wings. This was why we were their natural rivals and as a result, they definitely wouldn't put in good words for us. Furthermore, Rosen died a miserable death and they couldn't accept the truth. On the other hand, the people of Golden City were mainly Northerners. They hated the South, detested the Reformist Party, and loathed the Liberty Wings. If we lost, they wouldn't speak up for the loser. But since we won, they have all the reasons to support us. Besides, most of them didn't witness how terribly Rosen had died and they couldn't sympathize with the emotions of those in the audience. It was like a war. I guess you guys are aware and have heard of how devastating wars could be. But it is entirely different when you step into one and experience everything personally."
Everyone nodded in agreement.
"Therefore, those who didn't witness the competition couldn't imagine how bad Rosen's death was and we were the representatives of the North who have defeated the South. As a result, they naturally didn't have any reasons to humiliate us and chose to defend us instead. In fact, there was only one truth: we carried out the tactic of having several people take turns to tire Rosen out and eventually murder him. Then, we defeated the Liberty Wings Guild and gained the victory. This was the truth. But the truth was otherwise for others who viewed it from another perspective."
Rhode spread his arms apart.
"Lize, Marlene, and Anne. You girls still remember the show I brought you to watch in the Country of Light, right? That was the same. Standing from the perspective of the Country of Light's people, they definitely wouldn't dig their own graves and mention the historical background as this would sway their claim to legitimacy. Would you still think that the town residents who defended against the 'Red Demons' were putting up a battle of justice after you knew that the land under their feet actually belonged to the 'Red Demons' who they slaughtered? On the other hand, the 'Red Demons' wouldn't think that the town residents who confronted them were righteous because they were the violent, cruel invaders who stole their homes. The town residents were the true Demons instead."
"I think I get what you mean now, Rhode."
Marlene nodded. After all, she was considered the only person who was in the noble circle among them and she understood the harmful effects of lies and slanders. But...
"But... They are only civilians. So what if they received such information? They will merely perceive the information as a leisurely pastime since this incident has happened a long time ago. Shouldn't they focus on living their lives, instead of getting involved in the rumors and slanders?"
Rhode let out a sigh to Marlene's doubts. Frankly speaking, Marlene's thoughts represented the thoughts of most of the nobles in the Munn Kingdom. They believed that life was about working hard in their daily lives and paying taxes since they couldn't go to war and it wouldn't threaten their statuses. There were no reasons for them to be concerned about what the people listened to all day. It would be sufficient as long as they managed their affairs properly and ensured that they could live a decent life. Rumors and slanders were vulgar and in poor taste for the nobles, where they weren't willing to get involved and even hear about them.
"I understand, Marlene. Indeed, for most people, it would only be a chat and pastime for them after meals. But as a matter of fact, the information will gradually infiltrate their minds deeply and become a fixed opinion."
Rhode lifted his head and revealed the trace of a smile to everyone.
"I know a whole lot of you loathe the Country of Darkness. Why?"
Everyone gazed in astonishment. Then, Lapis answered.
"Because... Because the Undead Creatures rule that country..."
"Right. Humans are only slaves and serve as meals in there..."
"Besides, their corpses will even be summoned by Necromancers to become materials for the Undead Army..."
Everyone broke out into discussion at this topic. No matter what, the reputation of the Country of Darkness was resounding on this continent. As the people of the Light Mainland, they heard no few stories about the Country of Darkness.
"Alright then. Which one of you have been to the Country of Darkness and seen it personally?"
In an instant, everyone fell into silence. They looked at one another and shook their heads.
"None of you have seen it for yourselves, so why are you sure that it's a living hell in there? Even though Humans are slaves in there, they might be well-fed and living in luxurious houses. Perhaps they are living a better life than most of us here apart from serving the Undead Creatures. Isn't that possible?"
"B-But... Everyone says that."
Anne explained despite being unable to put forward any convincing arguments. Rhode twitched his brows.
"That's right. Everyone says that... Now, do you understand?"
Most of them finally understood the meaning behind the words that Rhode conveyed.
"It's the same for the Country of Light. We say that the Country of Light's people are arrogant and opinionated, while they believed that they are the symbol of freedom and justice, the protectors and representatives of Humans. They overthrew the Light Dragon's rule and established a nation ruled completely by Humans. This was why they are prideful of their achievements and contemptuous toward the people of other nations and territories. In the Country of Light... Everyone says that, and that is why they believe so."
Marlene frowned and pondered in silence.
"Same goes for the South's armed rebellion. Why did the people support the group of idiots in the Reformist Party? That's because the Reformist Party did well in this aspect. They magnified and twisted Lydia's views and actions for their own benefits. For example: a group of bandits attacked a group of merchants. If the guards didn't provide assistance in time, people would accuse the guards of being vermin who get paid to do nothing. The people worked so hard to pay taxes for the guards' services while the guards can't even chase the bandits away. On the contrary, if the guards arrived on time and defeated the bandits, the people could accuse the guards for not informing them earlier of the lurking bandits since they were already aware. This led to them losing some of their men and resources. Was that a self-directed show put up by the guards to increase their presence?
"In any case, the people would still be the ones in the right. That's just shoving false arguments down others' throats."
John shook his head helplessly. As a commander of the Southern Legion in the past, he knew what Rhode said wasn't fabricated, but the truth instead. Joey grumbled in discontentment on the other side.
"That's right, there is only one truth. Whether the guards received the report and arrived on time or not, and whether they managed to defeat the bandits or let them escape, that was the truth. But this is meaningless to the Reformist Party. They had to weaken the legitimacy of Lydia's rule, so they stood with this position and re-described the whole situation. This way, the people would believe that Lydia's Royal Family was incapable of protecting them and they couldn't rely on the greedy, weak, sinister officials, and could only trust their own hands to change everything. This was why the Reformist Party received so much support from the people when they began their rebellion. Everyone was speaking ill of the Royal Family and believed that they failed to handle proper business, wasted their money, and threw their weight about. On the contrary, the Reformist Party who claimed to be representing the people was naturally the popular choice."
Rhode stood to his feet.
"This was why I proposed the Skynet Plan. Through various intelligence reports, not only could we gather information from various regions, but we can also manipulate them into being in line with our standpoint and disseminate them out in our benefits. At the very least, we can't allow our potential allies to be suspicious and resistant to us due to slanders and rumors."
Almost everyone nodded in agreement. In fact, what Rhode had mentioned was a common matter in the information age, where people understood the importance of grasping public opinion and right to speak. But it was different here. The information dissemination on this continent wasn't developed yet and could even be considered lacking. In general, the channels in which people obtained information were either from rumors heard in pubs, or from stories told by travelers. The Country of Light was the best in manipulating public opinion on this entire continent. Of course, words couldn't defeat blades and firearms. Even though the Country of Light could manipulate public opinion, defame, misrepresent, and vilify the Country of Darkness, words wouldn't aid them in being victorious when the Undead Army flooded into their country. Failure would still be failure while death would still be death.
Marlene scanned the map before her and said dubiously. Almost half of the intelligence hubs Rhode had set up were located in the Country of Light. What does this mean? Why would Rhode do that if he's only gathering information? Besides, these places are strategic locations for military affairs. Could it be that... Marlene gazed at Rhode and shook her head.
She lowered her head in silence. But she puckered her brows and scrutinized the map.
Could it be that... this Skynet Plan which Rhode came up with is designed to target the Country of Light?