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253 A Surprise?

 "What's this?"

Walking into the hall, Rhode astonishingly gazed at the decorations that hung on the wall. They were oil paintings of familiar sceneries within Deep Stone City. With mountains reaching through the clouds, endless deep mine shafts, central parks under the clear blue skies, and even picturesque sceneries near the stronghold. He had to say that hanging such mesmerizing paintings in the middle of the empty big hall did bring along a heartwarming feeling.

But where did these paintings come from?

Rhode frowned as he thought of this question because he clearly recalled that he didn't purchase any of them. Could they be bought by Marlene and the rest? This wasn't likely too because, as a vice-leader, Marlene was serious in her work and wouldn't possibly do that.

"Do you know what happened?"

Rhode turned around and asked. Shauna and Kavos looked at each other and shook their heads. Both of them were mercenaries and had zero interests in admiring such things, not to mention even caring about them. As for Lapis, she holed herself up in the room all day and wouldn't possibly know much about the changes.

That's odd. Where did they come from?

However, Rhode's questions didn't last for long as a figure emerged before everyone.

"Mr. Rhode, have all of you returned?"

Marlene hugged a pile of scrolls into the hall. Surprised with the return of Rhode and the gang, she immediately walked up to Rhode and greeted.

"Did the mission go well?"

"Yes, everything's good. How's your condition? How was the training?"

"Very well, Mr. Rhode. Everyone has almost grabbed the knack of things. I think we can soon show you the fruits of our labour."

Marlene revealed a confident smile because they had achieved visible results after putting in a lot of hard work. Especially to Marlene-she used to only lack battle experience, but now that so many days of training had passed, her battle experience had increased tremendously.

"Good, I'm looking forward to the results... But..."

Rhode nodded in satisfaction but quickly changed his tone as he pointed at the paintings on the wall.

"What's with those? I don't remember buying those paintings."

"Huhuhu..."

Marlene's chuckles surprised him. Then, she answered with a sense of pride and some arrogance.

"Christie painted them."

"Huh?"

Rhode was amazed and even Gillian hurriedly scanned the paintings.

"All of them were painted by little Christie? Wow... so beautiful... ah, I didn't know that little cutie had such talents."

Obviously, not only was Gillian shocked, but even Rhode was flabbergasted. He didn't know what talents Christie had, but he wasn't too mindful because she was too weak. At this stage, the only thing she needed to do was recuperate, so Rhode didn't expect her to do anything else. Rhode couldn't help but twitch his eyebrows because, even though these paintings were indeed beautiful, painting them was a waste of time. Could it be that Christie...

Marlene understood what Rhode was thinking due to his expression and quickly explained.

The truth was, after Rhode left, Marlene and the rest continued with their training. Whereas Christie could only recover and do nothing else. Although Christie was an obedient girl, coping up in the room all day would bring problems too. Furthermore, Rhode wasn't by her side, which made Christie feel ill at ease. Although Lize, Anne, and Marlene took time to accompany her, the only one who could make her feel at ease was Rhode.

And, under such circumstances, Christie had suddenly decided to paint. This request surprised Marlene and the others, but they didn't stop her. After all, it wasn't great to keep her coped up all day in her room. Now that she had finally found something of her interest, it made no sense for them to stop her. Therefore, Marlene and the others helped Christie purchase sketch pads, paint brushes, and paints which allowed her to paint to her heart's content.

Surprisingly, Christie showed her talented side.

This little girl, who had never painted, actually did so well. When she was painting, she didn't seem to be inexperienced at all and she didn't seem to be aware of it either. Facing Marlene's questions, the little girl was at a loss as though this wasn't anything strange to her.

"Honestly speaking, we were all surprised from the start. However... there's no problem now. Not only was Christie's painting technique superb, but she also painted quickly too.. She only needed two to three hours to complete each painting. And during these days, our relationships with Christie became much closer... Of course, don't worry, Mr. Rhode, because Lize has been looking after her to make sure that she doesn't tire herself."

"That's good to know."

Rhode heaved a sigh of relief. Sensing the change in Rhode's expression, Marlene let out an inward sigh.

He really cares for Christie a lot...

A strange emotion tugged at Marlene's heartstrings, but she quickly kept it down.

"Other than this, is there anything else?" said Rhode.

"Huh?" Marlene's expression changed slightly and she frowned as she recalled.

"... To be honest, there indeed was something, but..."

The maiden hesitated before letting out a long sigh.

"I think Mr. Rhode should see it for himself."

Compared to the past, Christie's room was filled with much more cheeriness. A huge wooden paint rack had been placed before the bed with a wide variety of colours placed in it. White canvas filled the room. Some were sketches while others were completed.

But the purpose of Marlene bringing Rhode to Christie's room wasn't to introduce him to the little girl's current living conditions.

"I guess you have already seen the paintings by Christie, Mr. Rhode."

"That's right."

Rhode nodded to Marlene and asked strangely.

"Are there any issues?"

"There is... and there isn't too..."

Marlene seemed to find it hard to speak about this, which confused Rhode even more. In the end, she approached the canvas and passed one of them to Rhode.

"Actually, other than these paintings, Christie has painted something else..."

Rhode took over the scroll and unrolled it. He knitted his brows.

Much different from the enchanting scenery, the scroll in Rhode's hand was totally different. Withered, pitch-black creviced land spread under the bloody red skies, and the surrounding mountain range was scattered with dead trees and ghastly white bones. Red streams flowed down like blood or lava. In the distance, an indistinct, tall building appeared behind the misty sand. At first glance, this painting gave off a strong sense of loneliness and darkness.

"Not only that, but these also..."

Rhode took over the other scrolls one by one. The paintings were virtually the same except for some minor details: a broken palace built on a pile of countless white bones, an unidentified being hanging on the branch of a dead withered tree, a pitch-black deep river converging into a lake. Everywhere was filled with struggling, hopeless arms.

"These were also painted by her?"

Rhode finally understood why Marlene was uneasy. If these paintings belonged to the imagination of a child, it would be too horrifying. To be honest, Christie's painting technique was excellent that at the first glance, one would even think they were looking at a scenic photograph. And because of that, no matter how one saw these paintings, they weren't similar to pure art, but were more like a projection of some other world.

"Yes, but Christie didn't seem to know about them either. I got Lize to ask her, but Christie was confused too. From her explanations, these sceneries seemed to just appear in her mind. Mr. Rhode, I'm worried... Besides, Christie seems to be afraid after finishing the paintings. There were a few times when she couldn't sleep because she was scared by her own paintings. This..."

Rhode focused his attention on the painting before him. Not only did these paintings looked realistic, but he also felt that he had been to these places before.

Where exactly were these places?

Rhode rotated the scrolls in his hands, trying to figure out the locations.

But before Rhode was able to figure out anything, Gillian jumped to his side. She scanned the scroll on his hand and her ears twitched slightly.

"Gosh. Isn't this the Infernal Abyss?"