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147 An Invitation

 Rhode didn't put much thought into Marlene's peculiar behavior. He vaguely sensed that something wasn't quite right when she emphasized 'Lize' numerous times, but in the end, he thought that it was only because she and Lize didn't receive fair treatment in regards to the contract.

Frankly, it wasn't difficult for him to draft Marlene a contract. Rhode had already decided that if the Senia Family had no objections, he'd draft her a temporary contract without any qualms. The contract consisted of special rules that were different from the other mercenaries. There wouldn't be any deadline so Marlene could leave the mercenary group anytime she wished. In other words, the contract didn't bind her to the mandatory rules. Instead, it was just a way to console her.

However, Rhode didn't spend too much time dwelling on her contract because he had something more important to deal with - an invitation from Klautz.

Rhode couldn't be considered to be either familiar or unfamiliar with this person.

Not only was Klatuz the owner of Deep Stone City, but he also held the position of administrative officer of the Paphield Region. Klautz was undoubtedly a very influential man. And in fact, he was a role model for many officers within the Munn Kingdom. Although he wasn't popular amongst the general populace, he still managed to obtain his title by possessing impressive talents.

So how did it turn out this way?

It was mostly due to the Munn Kingdom's Grand Duchess Lydia and her unique hobby - her obsession to collect talents and shape them from a rough gemstone into a sparkling jewel. According to Lydia, the whole country was a large jewel case, and her, as the owner, naturally had to gather all the most beautiful gems together.

On the other hand, Lydia hated any rocks that hid within those shiny gems.

Contrary to her angelic appearance, her personality was quite the opposite. While she wouldn't immediately discard the rocks within her jewel case, mediocre fellows would be stripped off their titles and turned into civilians. And that was when she was being lenient. If she found out that her aesthetic sense had been tarnished, it would be straight to the guillotine.

This was one of the main reasons why there were disputes after Lydia stepped into power. Within the country, the King's Party had the most influence, but as long as there were other parties involved, they would require representatives to fight for their self-benefits.

Compared to those with capabilities and ambitions, timid people were much easier to manipulate. And as for Lydia, her hobby was to get rid of the dust in the jewel case. However, in the eyes of the other families, Lydia's actions were akin to her wanting everything to herself and would hunt all those who opposed her view.

No matter how much talent and ambition the people had, their primary goal must be to serve the country, and must also be in line with the goals of the King's Party. If they allowed those wealthy families and merchant associations to join forces and run rampant, it'd be hard to say that they wouldn't have any designs for a coup d'état.

Klautz kept a low profile; he was cautious, sly, careful and supported liberalism. Although his name wasn't well-known amongst the citizens in the Paphield Region, many merchants and mercenaries were clear of his abilities.

One could say that Klautz's governing methods were incredibly clever. He knew that directly managing the people wouldn't be the wisest choice. Instead, if he managed the organizations that were in close proximity with the ordinary citizens, his influence would naturally spread them. This was a top-down management style, and it seemed that he did well.

But this didn't mean that he didn't have any flaws. Rhode was aware of his biggest weakness: his cautious nature. Sometimes, it could be a boon as it enabled him to make calm and rational decisions during stressful situations. However, it also brought him significant headaches when he took too long to make a decision, eventually causing the situation to go out of control.

Back in the game, the Country of Light had launched a sudden attack on Deep Stone City, leading to widespread chaos amongst the populace.

Rhode felt that he should quickly remove the source of problems. But Klautz had always been too cautious. He hoped to utilize the chaos within this period to conduct an investigation on rival forces to clear them all out in one sweep. However, he did not expect that things had already spun out of his control. Since he decided to force his way in, it was already too late to turn back. Meanwhile, the Country of Light began its attack, and the problem escalated into a huge diplomatic uproar. This time, it just wasn't simply within Klautz control as an administrative officer anymore. In the end, he was sabotaged by Country of Light. Although Lydia didn't punish him, this officer lost confidence and chose to resign on his own accord.

Back to reality - Rhode was familiar with this administrative officer, but he didn't know why he was invited. In this world, they had not spoken to each other before.

Rhode had initially thought that Klautz invited him because of the recent commotion he caused. During the Mercenary Association's meeting, Rhode heard that Klautz had sent people to show his displeasure about the matter.

After stepping into the living room, he realized that all of his speculations were wrong.

The people that sat on the sofa were all familiar faces.

Not only Sereck was present, but also the Keller Family's patriarch was as well. Noticing Rhode's arrival, both of them were surprised, but still politely greeted him. Although Rhode couldn't compare to them in social status, his relationship with the both of them was considered to be decent.

Just as Rhode sat down, Sereck asked curiously, "You've received the invitation too?"

Rhode replied with a slight nod and started to frown.

"Both of you were invited by Mr. Klautz?"

"That's right."

This time, it was the patriarch of the Keller Family who answered. He placed his teacup down with a gloomy expression.

"We are here after receiving Mr. Klautz's invitation. Although we are not sure why, but I think it could be due to..."

Before Keller could finish his sentence, the huge door creaked open, and a short man draped in Chinese clothes slowly walked in. Rhode, Sereck, and Keller stood up after noticing his arrival.

Based on his appearance, this man could be said to resemble a crook. However, his manners brought an unspeakable sense of character, which was this man's unique charm. Although his features were unlikeable, friendliness and warmth could be felt from his smile.

"Please, have a seat."

Klautz slowly walked to the middle of the living room and gestured at the seats at the same time. All three of them sat down as they stared at the city owner in front of them.

"I know that all of you have limited time, so I don't want to waste your time."

Klautz coughed softly. He lifted his head and turned his attention to Keller and Sereck.

"Recently there were rather strange incidents happening in Paphield Region... I think all of you must have felt it... the ore prices of the whole Paphield Region soared up by 30%. This created an impact on the rest of the industries in this region, however, our ores exportation didn't fall... is that right? Mr. Keller?"

"That's right, Mr. Klautz."

Keller nodded and replied calmly, "I can guarantee that the exportation of ores had been very stable within Deep Stone City. There weren't any major problems. The nearby regions did not have any surge in demand for ores, so the hike in price was indeed strange."

"Not only that... recently the mercenary groups in the Paphield Region had been facing problems right?"

Klautz then glanced at Sereck.

"I've heard from the Mercenary Association's report... This is indeed a very tough problem for you mercenaries, but things aren't as simple as they seem, because according to my investigations, there are other problems hidden within." Sereck raised his brows at Klautz's claim and urged him to continue with his eyes, "Recently, many mercenaries came to this region, but their time spent here wasn't long. They left soon after. Although this is normal for the inflow and outflow of mercenaries, to have such a bizarre scale of flow within a short period of time is very, very strange. I believe there must be some other reason."

"Do you mean there were other reasons behind this?"

Sereck was surprised after hearing Klautz's deduction of the matter.

"So... what you meant was..."

"This question shouldn't be answered by me."

Klautz laughed and shook his head. Next, he turned his head towards Rhode who was silently sitting down.

"Perhaps Mr. Rhode would have a better explanation?"