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320 Haze

 Endless darkness.

Thick fog had shrouded the entire space, and the black clouds hovered in the sky. A thundering sound echoed back and forth, disappearing afterward. Everything was dead silent. There was no trace of life, death, hope, or despair.

There was only an absolute emptiness.

The thick fog gradually dispersed and the thundering sound rang louder. The lightning pierced the clouds and hit the ground.

The white light reflected on the ground was so dazzling, making people unable to open their eyes. As the fog dispersed, the white, carpet-like thing spread and extended to the bottom of a high platform in the distance. However, upon a closer look, it could be seen that it was not a carpet, but a mountain of bones.

"!!"

Christie suddenly opened her eyes and jumped up like a scared little rabbit.

It was currently afternoon, and warm, sunshine rays shone through the window and brought about a lazy and warm feeling. The clean and comfortable room was very quiet. She opened the window, and the sound of the noise and music that was sealed before secretly snuck in and brought her peace of mind.

"Sigh..."

The girl stood before the window as she held her chest and sighed.

It was this dream again.

Ever since she was born, she had been having this dream, anytime and anywhere, as if reminding her of her own existence. She couldn't remember the scene of the dream clearly, but the feeling still remained. It was the feeling of melancholy that made her feel suffocated and a feeling of sadness accompanied with unparalleled despair. She couldn't understand what the dream meant, and she was eager to find out the answer. However, every time she tried to dig deeper into her dream,a powerful force that forced her out and made her felt miserable.

Even Rhode could not explain the meaning of her dream, Sister Marlene who was wise and knowledgeable also had no clue, but Sister Gillian would occasionally look at her strangely as if she were a rare animal. Unexpectedly, she did not feel disgusted by it. Instead, she felt a feeling of familiarity and intimacy towards Gillian, but Christie also did not know why.

Knock knock knock

Just then, the door sounded and made her startled. She turned around and took small steps to open the room door. After that, Marlene's soft and gentle expression appeared before her.

"Good afternoon, Christie. Am I bothering you?"

"... No... Marlene... I've just woke up ..."

Christie shook her head, curiously looking at the young girl in front of her. From what she remembered, Marlene was not the kind of person who liked to do things aimlessly. Unlike Sister Anne-the latter always came into her room whether she had something to do or not. Sometimes she wanted to chat with her, sometimes she just wanted to share some delicious and peculiar food with her. She even once wanted to give her a foamy drink. Of course, Sister Lize, who was always following her, firmly stopped it.

Now, Christie was not as shy and evasive as before towards the three of them. The fear of loss seemed to have diminished under their meticulous care. Now, she had begun to try to open her heart and accept others' kindness. However, the result was not necessarily as good as she would like it to be. Just like yesterday, when she saw that Anne's palm was stabbed in the arena, Christie felt that her heart almost stopped beating. She never thought that the feeling of worry would be so difficult and painful for a person, and even she doubted whether her choice was correct. Did it mean the more she opened her heart and accepted others' existence, the more she would feel such worried and restless feeling in the future?

She also didn't know the answer.

"... Can I help you...?

"Mr. Rhode is not with you?"

"... No ... "

Didn't know why, Christie saw a trace of relieved expression when Marlene heard her answer. She puzzledly tilted her head but Marlene didn't wait until she figured out what exactly happened and spoke. Her face was slightly flushed red, and she was a little embarrassed.

"It's like this; there's something I want to ask you... I hope you can give me a picture."

"... A picture?

Hearing until here, Christie's soon eyes lit up and she smiled.

"... If Marlene wants it, then there's no problem. Which one do you want, let me take it for you..."

Facing Christie's question, Marlene showed an awkward expression. She looked to the left and right then whispered something to Christie. After hearing Marlene's words, Christie nodded in surprise. She ran towards her desk to take the picture and gave it to Marlene afterward. Seeing the picture, Marlene smiled. She carefully took the picture and folded it into her bosom.

"Thank you... Christie."

"... You're welcome... Marlene."

Christie nodded her head lightly in the response of Marlene's thanks.

"... This is the only thing I can do ... I am very happy that you like it... "

"Of course I like it, so..."

Marlene's words hadn't yet finished, because, at this time, a voice suddenly sounded.

"Ah, Marlene, here you are."

Hearing Lize's voice, Marlene quickly closed her mouth. She turned around and looked at Lize in surprise, her hands unnaturally placed behind.

"What happened, Lize?"

"It's like this."

Lize did not notice Marlene's slightly strange movements. She trotted up and took a deep breath before continuing.

"A visitor came looking for you and said there is something that needs to be discussed with you."

"Visitor? Looking for me?"

When she heard her answer, Marlene slightly frowned.

"Who is it?"

"She claimed to be the eldest daughter of Nancy family, Ellenson, your best friend..."

Having said that, Lize showed an awkward expression. It's no wonder; even though they were intimate childhood friends, it's been a long time since Marlene had seen her. It was understandable that Marlene had found a new friend. However, she still felt that it was kind of weird because Marlene never mentioned such a person in front of her and if she really was a good friend of Marlene's, Marlene's reaction wouldn't be like this.

Moreover, the attitude of that Miss Ellenson...

"I understand; I'll go and see her."

Marlene was actually aware of Lize's weird expression, so she did not say much. Soon, she turned around and walked into the living room. Lize and Christie stood still, looking at her back for a while, then hurriedly following her from behind.

As they walked into the living room, Marlene saw a girl who was slightly younger than her dressed in a noble maiden's dress with her hands clenched on her knees, anxiously waiting. Seeing Marlene's arrival, the girl who was originally somewhat panicked immediately showed a reassuring expression. She warmly smiled and stood up and ran to Marlene's side.

"Elder Sister, I finally meet you!"

"Ellenson?"

Looking at the girl standing before her, Marlene slightly frowned. An unhappy expression flashed across her face.

"What are you doing here? I remember that I told you that I am very busy now; if there's anything, can't you just wait until the end of the Midsummer Festival?"

"But... I miss Sister so much..."

The girl called Ellenson bit her lower lip and showed a puppy-eyes expression.

"Sister has been away from the Golden City for a long time; I have always missed you, and now I heard that sister has finally come back. I certainly hope to be able to meet with you as soon as possible... By the way, sister, you should have nothing to do this afternoon, so why don't we go for a cup of tea together? Because of the Midsummer Festival, there are a lot of precious commodities recently, ah, there's also sister's favorite black tea..."

Seeing Ellenson's excitement, Marlene held her forehead. She wanted to reject her, but she couldn't find the right moment to speak.

Ellenson Nancy was Marlene's best friend in the Academy.

It was not exactly accurate to say that they were best friends. The Nancy family and the Senia family were friends, so since Ellenson was young, she had admiring Marlene as an elder sister. However, Marlene's attitude towards her wasn't as intimate as her attitude to Lize, and because of Ellenson's humble attitude and admiration towards her, it was difficult for Marlene to treat her as a friend. After she entered the academy, because of her proud attitude, it was also difficult for her to interact with others. It was only because the relationship between Nancy's family and Ellenson's admiration towards her, that they had gotten closer. Although her relationship with her wasn't as close as Lize, but she still thought of her as a younger sister.

However, Ellenson's actions sometimes made Marlene feel a little bit helpless, like now.

She wanted to refuse her invitation because now wasn't a good time for tea and chat, but she also found it difficult to say no since their relationship was indeed good. Marlene also needed to consider her as the eldest daughter of the Nancy family, so she would need to maintain the relationship between two sides. However, she was the heir of Senia family after all, so it would be impossible for her to act according to her own preferences.

This was how nobles interacted with each other.

Thinking of this, Marlene sighed. These few days in the mercenary group, she felt alive and relaxed. Because in here, she didn't have to worry about her identity and others' identity; she could just freely express her likes and dislikes.

But now, since she was already back in the Golden City, Marlene felt that she lacked this freedom of the past.

There was always a loss in a gain.

Since Ellenson had personally invited her, then it would be bad if she refused it. As Ellenson had said, currently, there was nothing particularly important for her to deal with. Anne only knew how to eat and sleep; she had completely forgotten about her heavy injuries after she slept. This place's security was also very tight, so there's no need for her to worry. As for her own safety, she didn't really consider much. If it was in the Deep Stone City, people who didn't know her might try to look for trouble, but in Golden City, basically no one dared to do that.

What's more, if they really wanted to do so, they wouldn't have the power. She was a middle circle mage, after all.

After thinking for a while, Marlene thought that there wouldn't be any problem, so she decided to agree with her invitation.

"Alright, if it's just tea... I think I can spare some time."

"Really! That's great!"

Hearing Marlene's answer, Ellenson smiled excitingly and flushed. Even her eyes went teary. It could be seen that she really cared about this invitation. Seeing her expression, she also began to regret being a little uncaring about her at first.

Thinking until here, Marlene turned around towards Lize and Christie.

"Then, Lize, Christie, I'll be going out for a while. Please tell Mr. Rhode that I'll be back as soon as possible."

"Alright, Marlene."

Hearing Marlene's answer, Lize quickly nodded. She didn't notice that at this time, Ellenson was secretly looking at her with a hateful expression. It was only a second when both of them finished speaking with each other, and Ellenson quickly smiled. She held Marlene's hand intimately and both of them walked out together. Lize felt that she was doing it on purpose just to show off.

When they arrived at the entrance, a luxurious carriage was already waiting in the front. Marlene nodded towards Christie and Lize and entered the carriage. Seeing her gesture, Lize and Christie also hurriedly waved their hands to say goodbye. However, Ellenson didn't seem to want them to do so; she looked at the two of them coldly, then she whispered something to the coachman and closed the door carriage.

Soon, the carriage moved and quickly left.

"That sister doesn't seem to like us very much."

Until then, Christie finally let go of her hand and said uneasily. She had been bullied for so many years, so she was very sensitive towards other people's psychological characteristic response. Although Ellenson hid it very well, but Christie was keen enough to perceive the deeply hidden hostility and disdain towards her, which made her felt a little unhappy, not because she hated being underestimated, but she felt that such person did not deserve to be a good friend of Sister Marlene.

"... Let's go back, Christie."

But Lize didn't respond to Christie. She just watched the back of the carriage as it disappeared and shook her head. Unlike Christie, she understood how Marlene felt. Although she had been adventuring for so many years, she grew up as a royalty, so she understood the communication between the nobles and such things. That's why although she had the same thought as Christie, she was more mature than her and was able to understand Marlene's decision.

Thinking until here, Lize took Christie's hand and walked away.

The luxurious carriage came across a relatively remote and secluded neighborhood, which looked beautiful. There were cobbled roads, clear water, greeneries, and beautiful sculptures on both sides of the road. It looked really delightful.

"This is not your house, Ellenson."

Walking down the carriage, Marlene looked at the street view on both sides and frowned. However, Ellenson gently smiled.

"This is my other mansion, dear sister. The environment here is very good, very quiet, and not noisy, so we don't have to be afraid of being disturbed. It's a very good place."

"Indeed, it looks quite good."

Seeing the beautifully decorated elegant building, Marlene nodded. Ellenson walked forward and chuckled. Soon, there were attendants who opened the door and guided them inside.

The interior of the mansion was like the exterior-very luxurious. There was a hint of sweet fragrance in the air, and the red velvet carpet on the floor felt soft and comfortable. The corridor on both sides was filled with exquisite statues and paintings. Marlene admired these exquisite works of art while following Ellenson to the living room from the side. Fine desserts and steaming black tea had already been prepared. Just as Ellenson had said, it was a normal afternoon tea.

"Elder Sister, please come and have a sip. It took me a lot of effort just to get this black tea.

Ellenson attentively stretched out her hand and personally poured a cup of black tea for Marlene, and Marlene also did not refuse. She took a light sip. Soon, the black tea's uniquely bittersweet taste quickly spread on her mouth, making her feel relaxed and refreshed.

"How about it, Sister?"

The girl placed both hands on her cheek while looking at Marlene. Hearing Ellenson's question, Marlene only smile and nodded.

"Not bad at all, Ellenson. It seems like you understand my taste really well.

"Naturally, you are the dearest elder sister I admire the most. Also, try this cake; this was also especially made for you. Please try it, it's imported from the south. Sweet and cold, very delicious."

As always, the conversation between nobles was boring. Marlene absent-mindedly took the cake that Ellenson handed her while instinctively making a graceful response. If Anne had been here, she would have shown a more forthright opinion. Thinking of here, Marlene smiled. Although there's no way that Anne could eat like her and these nobles, but seeing Anne happily eating also made Marlene very happy... She wouldn't be able to experience that kind of feeling in a noble tea party,

"Elder sister, you have changed..."

Just as Marlene was tasting the cake, Ellenson stared at her and sighed.

She lowered her eyes and a trace of despair and anger flashed through her eyes. However, Marlene was still immersed in her thoughts and did not notice it.

"When I heard that you were leaving Golden City, I was very, very worried. I was always afraid that something might happen to you... and now you're back, but ... you seem to have changed a lot."

"People always change, Ellenson. We are growing, and everyone will change; I will change, and so will you."

Marlene put down her knife and fork. She looked at the girl beside her, but what she saw was Ellenson's restless expression.

"But I don't want to change, sister. I only want to maintain my previous life, because change is not always a good thing, is it, sister? Why are you so serious when you're with me when you can smile at those lowly people? Can I not be compared to them?"

"Ellenson?"

The surrounding air began to thicken. The originally faint, sweet fragrance had wrapped around Marlene like honey. Marlene shook her head, and her conscious gradually became blurred. Everything around her seemed to be distorted, rotating.

"Sister, why?"

Marlene looked up and saw Ellenson's blurred figure. She stood up and came towards her.

"Why? I have always admired you so much, but why do you prefer to treat those lowly people as your friends, and not me as your friend?

"Ellenson... you..."

Marlene clenched her hands, she had instinctively sensed that something was wrong and wanted to chant a spell. However, on the next moment, she could not even make the slightest sound.

In her eyes, Ellenson's figure had begun to get blurred and distorted. Her body had begun to become hot, and she gradually lost her strength.

"But, its alright sister... Just as you said, everyone will change, and so will me. The current me is no longer longing for your friendship..."

Her vision turned black, and Ellenson's voice was also fading. The endless darkness had completely swallowed Marlene's consciousness...