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297 Holy War Ceremony 1/2

 To many people, what was going to happen in the next few days wouldn't be understandable.

In just a matter of two days, news that the Munn Kingdom had another princess spread across Golden City. Although most of the rumors were without much elaboration, those with connections were still able to figure out that this 'princess' was named Lize and was a member of Starlight. These people were also quick to know this young lady's true identity; she was the previous ruler's biological daughter and also Lydia's younger sister. Due to certain accidents, she had to leave Golden City for the Paphield region. And as for what happened afterward... nobody was sure.

Just as Rhode had guessed, this news caused an uproar. However, the majority of the people was only curious as after so many years, they didn't know that Lydia actually had a younger sister. Now that this younger sister had appeared, she was also going to attend the Midsummer Festival. What exactly was going on?

More importantly, Lize's identity wasn't announced by herself, but by Lydia's direct guards... which left many puzzled...

Some people had even attempted to join the mercenary group in order to uncover more information. After all, as they were concerned about Lize, they also wished to know more about the mercenary group that she was in. To these people, digging up information about an ordinary mercenary group wasn't difficult. Shortly after, they learned that this mercenary group had faced a disaster after which only Lize and another person who survived. Then, they met a young noble and the noble helped Lize reconstruct the mercenary group into Starlight. This mercenary group didn't have many members, but they were powerful, and have completed plenty of dangerous missions without failing. They were currently ranked number one in the Paphield region.

However, such information wasn't valuable to them. They wanted to know who the leader of this mercenary group was and where he came from. They heard that he was a noble who had come from the Eastern Plains. But how powerful was he? Did he form this mercenary group out of boredom or he have other intentions? Also, for him to appear next to the 'princess', was it a coincidence? Or did the King's Party send him to watch over the princess?

They had to get all this information clear. Many knew that, currently in the Munn Kingdom, Lydia's reputation was great and the chances of anyone overthrowing her was basically zero. This Archangel was not only smart and sly, but she was also vicious. As soon as she turned around, this 16, 17 years old Angel young lady would turn into a devil. But now, she chose to announce this secret to the public. No one believed that she didn't put in any thought before doing so.

That was why these people tried to gather information through Starlight. Although they could use the forces of the nobles' network to investigate, the nobles of the Eastern Plain were far away from Golden City. This was because they resisted the Dark Dragon's first line of defence, so past rulers of Golden City held much respect for them. Also, these nobles had inherited the reserved nature of people in the Eastern Plains and rarely revealed themselves. But, the nobles in the Munn Kingdom knew that even though the people in Eastern Plains rarely attended parties and social events, they held a strong influence in the King's Party, so it wasn't wise to provoke them.

The safest way was to search for members of Starlight and seek for information. They were confident in this because, after all, Golden City was a popular city that never slept, so everyone who came to Golden City would definitely explore the place. When that happened, they only had to watch the mercenaries attentively and ask for information.

However, when the 'local mafias' buckled up and searched, they made a depressing discovery; Starlight members didn't even leave their residence!

Ever since Rhode led Starlight into the campsite, they had never stepped out. No one knew what they were doing all day long inside. Then, the campsite workers told them that the leader of Starlight kept his members inside for training and forbid them from leaving.

This left them at a loss. They were clear as to why Starlight was able to participate in this Midsummer Festival. After all, this wasn't a secret that Starlight was an extremely lucky mercenary group. A mercenary group like them that was established less than half a year ago and had less than 100 members. How could they even compete with the four guilds?

That was why they thought that this mercenary group was only here to go through the motions. According to them, after arriving Golden City, these people would definitely grab the chance to indulge in drinking, pleasure, and enjoy the nightlife of Golden City before returning to Paphield with the rights to show off. Then-there was no more thens. Because, how could they beat the four guilds?

But now... Could it be that they were still thinking of winning? Were their heads fine? Or could it be that the noble was a brain-dead and he believed that he could win?

Everyone felt ridiculous, as though an ordinary person was going to participate in a heavyweight match where he would be knocked out in one punch and yet he continued to train... What was the point of that?

But no matter how people criticised, all the information they received from the campsite attendants was that Starlight had been training all day and night without anyone stepping in or out.

This information was meaningless to them and they would rather the members of Starlight to attend some fun parties-that would at least bring some interesting news.

The only result they received was that the leader of this mercenary group was a beauty-but was also a man.

What exactly was this mercenary group?!

Actually, from the start, many nobles had guessed wrongly.

They thought that Rhode and his men were country pumpkins who would be dazzled by the flourishing Golden City. But, in fact, it was totally different. It was even more so for Rhode, because in the game, Golden City was almost like his main city. So to him, this was only a trip down memory lane.

As for Marlene and Lize, they grew up in Golden City and even lived in the highest and most luxurious regions of the city. Even though they hadn't returned for a long time, they didn't seem excited.

As for Joey and Randolf, they weren't even in the mood. Thinking back to when they stepped up on the Sacred Arena just a few days ago, they were so nervous that their minds went blank. Luckily, Rhode was there to give them intense training and forced them to forget about unnecessary matters. If not, no one knew what would happen to them.

However, normal beings did exist.

Anne and Lapis were dissatisfied that they were unable to experience the beauty of Golden City. The former had the mindset of a 'country pumpkin' where she felt that coping up in the room the whole day for training was boring. But although Anne grumbled, she was still obedient. Since Rhode said that she couldn't leave, she wouldn't. She could do so after the competition.

As for Lapis, even though she wasn't a main participant and only a substitute, she still wished to explore this beautiful city. The pitiful young lady could only look out of the window while concocting potions...

Although Rhode hoped to lock everyone in until the last day, he was clear of the crooks mixed in with the honest folks as a veteran gamer. Now that there was an incident involving the 'princess', it would definitely be chaotic outside, which was why he had decided not to stir up any trouble and steadily remained in his campsite. Since there was an army of Battle Angels standing on guard, outsiders wouldn't dare enter.

If it was possible, Rhode wished to only release them when the Midsummer Festival began. However, the truth was that, on the evening of the fifth day, the Holy War Ceremony was about to begin with the arrival of the four guilds and Midsummer Festival preparations were completed.

All in all, the leaders of various participating guilds would gather and swear their oaths to the most honorable holy war spear. They would repeat the six commandments and oaths as mercenaries. Then, under the testimony of the holy spirit, they would draw lots to decide on their opponents. Rhode, as the leader of Starlight, naturally had to participate.

That was why Rhode had to give up his plans and bring Marlene and Lapis along.

Rhode didn't bring Lize along because he knew that, as the center of attention of the whole 'princess incident', she would definitely be under scrutiny and admiration, and he still wasn't clear on the King's Party's and Reformist Party's attitude toward her. Although Lydia's view on her wasn't worrying, the King's Party members weren't aligned, so it would be best to avoid provoking any enemies.

That was why he had chosen Marlene and Lapis. Golden City could be considered the base camp for the Senia Family, and even the most foolish person wouldn't dare to start a conflict with the Senia Family's heir.

As for Lapis, Rhode only wished to satisfy her request to roam around the city. Didn't you want to see Golden City's sceneries? See to your heart's content!

When night fell, the Holy War Ceremony finally began in the Lily Garden.

As the ceremony before the commencement of the Midsummer Festival, the Holy War Ceremony received a lot of attention. Not only were the four guild leaders present, but the highest-level authorities of Golden City also attended. As for the Mercenary Association, who was in charge of organising the Midsummer Festival, they had attended too. But this was a ceremony among the mercenaries after all, so it wasn't too grand.

"Tsk, boring."

Barter held his cup and looked at the officials and nobles whispering into one another's ears. His eyes revealed some displeasure. He didn't like such lively and hypocritical occasions, not to mention there were even troublesome rules and the food wasn't enough to fill his stomach!

Whose idea was it to come up with this damn ceremony?

"Although it's boring... It's definitely necessary."

Viktor approached him. This man who led the Cole Falcon guild and crusaded the continent had gracefully stripped off his armor and wore a fitting, black, formal attire. Accompanied by his charming face, he attracted the attention of many young noblewomen.

"Also, this ceremony may not be as boring this time."

"Oh? What do you mean?"

Barter was puzzled. Viktor revealed an interesting smile.

"Don't you have any anticipation for how they will allocate our opponents?"

"Ah? This..."

Barter pondered for a moment. That's right, this Holy War Ceremony was different from the past!

The previous ceremony consisted of only four guilds and the drawing of lots didn't have much suspense. The Purple Lily Guild and Cole Falcon Guild represented the King's Party and the Sky Sword Guild and Liberty Wings Guild represented the Reformist Party. Basically, both camps would fight and as the Midsummer Festival was a festival, the duration of the elimination competition wouldn't be too long. The four guilds would fight in an elimination style, and a winner would be determined from the two winning guilds.

After so many years, the winning and losing rates for either sides were the same. 50/50.

But it was different this year. Due to Starlight's appearance, it changed the scene.

"Viktor, what's the difference? With the addition of a small mercenary group, no matter who faces them, won't it be an easy win?"

Barter understood the reason, but he was unconcerned. After all, such things did happen before. Hiller's Burning Blade had once been promoted to a guild and he represented Paphield. Back then, the Mercenary Association ruled that the newly promoted guild had to go through drawing lots to go against one of the four guilds and one of the guild would be vacant without an opponent. After the match up between the new guild and its opponent, the vacant guild would then battle with the winner for a spot in the finals.

Back then, it was so for Hiller's Burning Blade. In the end... They lost terribly in the individual and group match ups. Their opponents, Cole Falcon, easily kicked them home without receiving any damage.

Burning Blade was indeed a tragedy...

That was why Barter felt that Viktor's worries were unnecessary. Starlight wasn't even a guild yet, so they didn't even need to worry about their abilities.

However, Viktor seemed to have a different opinion about this. His smile remained the same and after hearing Barter's question, he shook his head.

"Who knows? Barter, this world is ever changing... Enough said, a good show is coming up."

Viktor pointed to the entrance.

Barter turned around and spotted a pitch-black chariot painted with an unfamiliar emblem. Then, the door opened and a young man with long black hair, a beautiful face, and formal men's attire stepped down from the chariot. He calmly observed the surrounding while everyone turned their attention to him. Then, they were stunned.

"He's a man?"

Barter couldn't believe his eyes. At the same time, he turned to Viktor and burst out into laughter. How was this possible? Rhode was no doubt a beauty. A beautiful face with delicate facial features that complemented his black long hair-he looked exactly like a woman.

However, the perfectly straight formal man's attire proved that he indeed was a man because no matter how flat a woman's chest was, it would never be this flat.

Rhode noticed the attention he was receiving, but he was mentally prepared. Therefore, he maintained his emotionless expression, stood by the side, and extended his hand in a gentlemanly fashion.

Then, a slim, snowy arm stuck out from inside the chariot and grabbed onto his right hand. Marlene, who was dressed in a grand, maroon gown, stepped down from the chariot.

Unlike the usual days, she wore a gown made from a material that fitted nicely on her body, which accentuated her young, slender figure. A silver shawl wrapped around her shoulders and let off a mature feel. Accompanied with her unique, silver-whitish hair and red pupils, she left a deep impression.

The bustling atmosphere came to an abrupt halt. Not only due to her beautiful looks, but it also due to her identity as the heir of the Senia Family, where she was respected in such occasions. Even though the mercenary group she joined wasn't one with high reputation or abilities, this definitely wasn't enough of a reason for others to poke fun at her.

However, no one noticed that as Marlene extended her hand and grabbed onto Rhode's hand, she was blushing and appeared somewhat despondent. However, she was still the heir of a huge noble family and she quickly recovered from such absent-mindedness before anyone noticed.

Although Rhode noticed Marlene's strange reactions, he didn't speak anything about it. After Marlene walked down the chariot, he released his grip on her hand. He didn't walk alongside Marlene. Instead, he returned to the chariot and extended his hand again.

What's going on?

Many of them were astonishment. They thought that the young man would walk alongside her. You should be happy to have the chance to walk beside her. What are you thinking!?

Before everyone received the answers to their doubts, they saw another young lady extend her hand out of the chariot and grab Rhode's.

Unlike the graceful Marlene, Lapis was dressed fresh and clean. She wore a simple, yet elegant white gown, accompanied with a laced mantle that draped over her shoulders and covered her delicate stature.

Rhode had to admit that Lapis had indeed proven herself to be the Behermes' heir. Although she appeared to be in a daze and was always timid, the lessons she received about royalty ceremonies could be seen entirely when it came to such occasions. Although she didn't have the aura of a queen like Marlene, anyone could see that she had received great education just by her standing there with her hands folded before her chest and lowering her head.

Who is she?

Everyone was perplexed. They didn't know who she was but, judging from her looks, she didn't seem to be the rumored 'princess'. So then, this was very worth the thought over. What was the identity of this young lady to stand alongside Miss Marlene?

In actual fact, with Lapis' identity as Behermes' princess, she indeed had the rights to and even stand in front of Marlene. However, Marlene wasn't aware of Lapis' true identity. As for Rhode... he was only thinking that since Lapis wanted to head outside, he would use this chance for her to have a stroll. No matter what, he was considered to be her guardian and to lock her up in the room the whole day seemed brutal. Besides, Lapis had an introverted nature and definitely wouldn't stir up trouble like Anne...

As Rhode entered the ceremonial hall with the two young ladies, he saw an elderly man with a full head of white hair approaching him with a smile.

He was the representative of the Reformist Party-leader of the Sky Sword guild, Mobis.

"Greetings. Long time no see, Miss Marlene."

The elderly man greeted. It seemed like he totally neglected Rhode and Lapis. However, no one thought that the elderly man was being respectful toward Marlene because all they heard was the sneer in his tone.

"Greetings, President Mobis. It's been 3 months, and you seem to be doing well."

Marlene responded by lifting the hem of her skirt and bowed with no signs of fear.

"I thought that my father's 'accidental' miss had left you lying in bed for awhile."

Although Mobis was much more senior than Marlene and logically speaking, she should be respectful to her elders, the relationship between the Reformist Party and King's Party was like fire and water. She, as a representative of the King's Party, definitely wouldn't show any signs of weakness.

Everyone tensed up as they sensed the difference in this young lady's aura. Unlike in the past, Marlene used to react with pride and arrogance, but now, she seemed stronger and even took the initiative to strike back!

Not only that, but everyone could also sense the rivalry between them. Mobis seemed to have done something to the Senia Family in the past but failed and received a punishment. Oh my goodness, could it be that the Sky Sword Guild intended to fall out with the Munn Kingdom's strongest family force?

The crowd looked at Mobis in bewilderment.

Indeed. The elderly man's calm eyes glinted coldly. Then, he stroked his beard and burst into laughter, at the same time spreading his hands apart.

"Hahaha, Miss Marlene doesn't need to worry about me. Although I may be old, such little trouble means nothing to me. How would I give up so easily before reaching my goal?"

Mobis didn't seem like he wished to continue the conversation. He turned to Rhode.

"This... must be the leader of Starlight, Mr. Rhode? Indeed. Seeing is believing, I didn't expect you to be prettier than what the rumors described."

"Thanks for the compliment, President Mobis."

Rhode maintained his expression as he bowed slightly.

"But, to us mercenaries, face isn't important. Strength is."

"Yes, yes, well said! Hahahahaha."

Mobis burst into laughter and give Rhode a pat on his shoulder, which changed Rhode's expression slightly for a second. Mobis didn't realized it and nodded with satisfaction.

"That's right. You're right. Mercenaries depend on strength, which many young people have long forgotten..."

Mobis paused and looked around. After shifting his gaze back at Rhode, his eyes seemed to be much heavier and dignified. As the leader of the Sky Sword Guild, Mobis had long investigated the information regarding this young man. He knew that Rhode was mindful about his face and could even kill someone on the streets over it. Therefore, this was only a rashful part of him in Mobis' eyes. Originally, he had intended to use this chance to infuriate this young man in order to reach his goals. But, for unknown reasons, it seemed that this young man had patience well above his expectations. Not only that, but Mobis also realised that he wasn't able to read what the young man was thinking based on his expression. Furthermore, for unknown reasons, Mobis felt that Rhode wasn't looking at him like he was looking at a human-more like he was looking at a dead man.

What's going on with this young man?

"I hope you have fun in the Midsummer Festival."

Mobis turned around and left as laughed grimly.

Rhode remained silent. At this moment, he felt something soft grabbing onto his left hand. He turned around and saw Marlene looking at him with helplessness and shaking her head lightly.

"Mr. Rhode, Mobis is hard to deal with. He was purposely provoking you, so you mustn't fall for his trap."

"I understand, Marlene. Don't worry."

Rhode nodded and turned to the front. His eyes glinted with harsh coldness at the sight of Mobis' back. He understood what Marlene meant, and in fact, he was familiar with Mobis. As he executed the King's Party's mission, he destroyed the entire Reformist Party, including Mobis. Although this elderly man seemed kind on the outside, he was a treacherous and murderous figure. However, Rhode wasn't too mindful of him. After all, he had murdered this man before and it wouldn't mean too much to kill him again. Therefore, facing Mobis' taunts, Rhode remained calm as ever, which was why his eyes were slightly odd.

But Mobis wasn't aware of that, of course.

The awkward atmosphere slowly faded away and the clamors once again filled the air. Rhode, Marlene, and Lapis used the opportunity to stand by the side and avoid unnecessary attention.

"What do you think?"

At this moment, Viktor withdrew his gaze and smiled. Barter touched his chin and nodded.

"Still alright, and it seems that this young man isn't any sissy. But, as a man, he should look tougher. If it's me, I would've given that old dude a tight slap! Damn old thing, how could he have even lived for so long? Lucky bastard..."

"Alright. Alright, it's no use saying all these now."

Viktor stopped Barter with his lifted cup and nodded. At the same time, he revealed a mysterious smile.

"It's my turn next."

"You?"

Barter was stunned.

"You're going too?"

"Of course."

Viktor maintained his smile, but his eyes were filled with determination.

"No matter what, the Senia Family is also our alliance in the King's party, so naturally I have to greet Miss Marlene. Besides, how can I let the Reformist Party snatch all the attention?"

"You're full of trouble, Viktor."

Barter shook his head and sighed as he was clear of Viktor's intentions. Although Viktor was very usually friendly and outspoken, he was much tougher and haughtier on the inside. How could Viktor swallow it down?

But, Viktor had cancelled out everything that Barter said. He approached Rhode with his cup... On the other hand, Barter observed closely.

"No matter how I see it, that guy seems to be heading there to flirt a beautiful young lady."

Barter knew that Rhode was a man, but he couldn't accept this fact...