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300 Start of the Midsummer Festival

 The Midsummer Festival couldn't be considered popular because it focused on mercenaries, and everyone else would just gather for food and drinks. Thereafter, the Mercenary Association decided to 'join in the fun' and promote it into a festival. But, even so, the Midsummer Festival still wasn't regarded highly by others because the nature of mercenaries was always loud and rowdy, and all of them would eat and drink gluttonously. Unlike other festivals, the Midsummer Festival didn't have any procedures like giving speeches of missions and all-mercenaries wouldn't know if they could see another day, so expectations and ideals were equal to nothing for them. As for missions, what were their missions other than earning money?

That was why the previous Midsummer Festivals had always been cold and cheerless. Just like the previous Holy War Ceremony, everyone started eating and drinking after the ballot and vows. The civilians only wished to gather to the arena for a good show, where the competition between guilds or ceremony were unimportant matters.

But this time, after Lydia took over as organizer, how could she tolerate having a meaningless and empty festival as a person who was termed as luxurious, extravagant, and gorgeous?

Therefore, a unique grand festival had begun as morning arrived.

Accompanied with deep, loud saluting gun explosions, countless magical fireworks erupted, spiralling into the sky and exploding in all directions before merging with the sun's first ray. In an instant, the highest point of Golden City seemed to have awakened under the dazzling sun.

Rhode looked at the scenery with widened eyes, whereas Lize, Anne, and the rest were totally stunned.

Over just one night, Golden City seemed to have transformed. Flags representing various guilds and associations waved in the blue skies. The golden sun rays were like a shapeless river flowing in the air with countless petals falling from above. The lightly scented aroma gave them a comfortable sensation...

"This is... the Midsummer Festival?"

Joey was overwhelmed. He stared at everything in panic-that's right, panic. Lydia loved huge occasions, but this didn't mean that others would equally love such bustling scenes, especially the mercenaries that were participating in the opening matches. The larger the occasion, the more nervous they would get, and the worse they would perform. This was only natural for any normal human, unlike rare cases like Anne, who couldn't wait to jump onto the arena and wreck her opponents.

"Alright, this is nothing. Calm down."

Rhode didn't have any reactions. Although the scale of this fesivatal was huge, it was only compared to the usual Midsummer Festival. If this was to be compared to the official festivals, this scale was actually rather similar. The most ridiculous festival was the Dragon Soul Ceremony; that was the true festival for the whole nation. Compared to this, that was the real deal.

But, even so, Rhode let out an inward sigh. This ruler definitely found a lot of trouble for him by turning the festival into such a bustling scene. Wouldn't his men become even more nervous? Luckily, he was already prepared for this; if not, he wouldn't know how it would turn out.

Rhode withdrew his gaze and turned to everyone.

"Get prepared and we will move out soon- Before that, spend some time to admire the scenery."

Rhode paused for a moment and subconsciously swept a glance at everyone. Marlene wasn't with them. This was pretty normal as, after the ceremony the day before, she informed him that she would return home and head directly to the Sacred Arena. Rhode approved of her request because he knew that the Senias were located in Golden City and since Marlene was back, it wouldn't be right not to let her return home. That was why he didn't object and since they were cooped up in the campsite for so long and the Senia Family didn't look for them, wouldn't it be too much to not allow her? To keep their family's heir with the mercenary group and not allow her home; even though the Midsummer Festival was indeed important, it wasn't to this extent...

In the end, Rhode agreed to Marlene's 'leave application'.

But Rhode felt strange to not see Marlene around. Ever since Marlene joined the mercenary group, he had gotten used to this young lady quietly following him around. And unlike Lize, Marlene's observation on many matters were sensitive and helped him manage many issues on hand. If Marlene was around and noticed Rhode's glance, she definitely would have stepped out and questioned him.

Rhode shook his head and threw this thought to the back of his head. No matter what, she was the heir of the Senia Family and it was already great that she could come to Starlight and be his assistant for such a long time. Actually, Rhode had mentally prepared himself that after the Midsummer Festival, Marlene might leave the mercenary group. He didn't forget that the reason this young lady joined the mercenary group was to gain a certain level of battle experience.

Now that Marlene had no lack of battle experiences as she had improved over the course in the mirage training, this Midsummer Festival actually could be considered the end of term examinations. If this young lady performed well, it would mean that she passed the test. She wouldn't have anymore reasons to stay in Starlight.

With regards to Marlene leaving the group, Rhode would be lying if he said he didn't feel a least bit of pity. Marlene was the first ever to request to join Starlight as a mercenary. She could be said to be the one who participated in the mercenary group's formation and been through its various changes. This young lady was also reasonable and extremely cool headed, also understanding circumstances. Of course, she might be rather proud, but to Rhode, this wasn't a flaw. She was respected and loved within the mercenary group and held enough authority in managing matters according to his wishes. Even without Rhode around to give commands, Marlene also knew what was the best for the mercenary group. As the heir of a huge family, she learnt a lot on this aspect as she would need to lead all of them in the future.

Frankly speaking, Rhode definitely didn't wish to give up on such an outstanding assistant like her. Although Gillian could work well with him too, she was more suitable to be a leader than as an assistant. On the other hand, although Lize was obedient, she didn't have her own constructive opinions. In addition, she had a gentle and loving nature, but wasn't experienced in leading and commanding others. Whenever Rhode was around, she didn't seem to have any issues but once Rhode went away, there definitely would.

As for Anne-he didn't even need to think about it.

Actually, from another perspective, Celia and Celestina suited Rhode's requirement. However, as spirits of the card deck, they couldn't be outside 24/7, which was why it was hopeless. Thinking of having the need to choose a new assistant after this Midsummer Festival, Rhode felt a little depressed.

And deep in his heart, he admitted that he indeed didn't wish for Marlene to leave his side.

Of course, the reason was other than the reasons stated above.

But Rhode was clear that the reason was hard to explain.

"... What's wrong? Rhode...?"

Rhode lowered his head and turned to the direction of the voice. He realised that Christie had tugged on his sleeve and looked at him worriedly.

"... Rhode seems pale... Are you ok...?"

"No, Christie, I just thought of something troublesome, that's all."

Rhode smiled (which was a rare opportunity for everyone to see his smile), squatted down, and looked at Christie while caressing her hair.

"I was only thinking... if Marlene were to leave us, what should I do next?"

"... Sister Marlene is leaving...?"

Christie widened her eyes in astonishment. Although Christie wasn't as close with the rest as Rhode was, she had considered Marlene to be someone familiar after spending so many days together. She wouldn't bear separating from this strict and friendly older sister.

"... Why must Sister Marlene leave? Rhode.... Everyone, stay together... isn't that good?"

Rhode shrugged hopelessly and shook his head with a bitter smile.

"She has her life and we have ours... Besides, this is only a possibility, not for sure yet."

"... Sister Marlene would never leave..."

Christie revealed a confident smile.

"... I know, because Sister Marlene loves everyone... so she wouldn't leave..."

"I hope so."

Rhode didn't say much as he lightly fondled with her hair once more before standing up and staring out the window.

The Sacred Arena was shining so ever brightly under the dazzling sun rays.

It was their turn to fight soon.