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362 Closing Ceremony 3/3

 It was an unforgettable scene.

After the explosion, thick smoke billowed over Golden City. Scorching flames devastated the buildings while civilians were screaming and crying, dragging along their loved ones to escape this once bustling land. Behind them were tens of thousands of Undead Legions, and in the skies, a Dark Dragon circled among the clouds, tainting the world with its dark aura. It was as though a drop of ink fell into a clear blue lake, producing a series of ripples which spread across the entire lake, polluting it with pitch black darkness. Even the sun rays were divided and masked by a thick curtain of miasma.

Rhode stood on the platform and recalled his past memories. Back then, he was still an ordinary player and had never thought that an online game would be so incredibly realistic. In order to resist against the Dark Dragon's invasion, many players that allied themselves to the Munn Kingdom fell in battle one after another, causing their levels to drop drastically. In the end, they couldn't stop the Dark Dragon and the advancement of the Undead Legion. They couldn't even protect their homeland...

Back in the forums, many players thought that this event was meant to play out this way. At that point of time, the highest-leveled players level were only around level 50 while the regular mobs in the Undead Legion were around level 40; even the chief leading the legion was a monster over level 60. With such a massive difference in both forces and levels, the players' defeat was inevitable.

As for Rhode, he was one of those the players with the highest level.

To hinder the legion from advancing further, he single-handedly fought his way into the enemy's barracks three times in a row. Rhode managed to succeed twice out of his three attempts, but when he tried to attempt it for the fourth time, the system prompt informed him of a quest and was forcefully teleported to the last bastion of Golden City.

The fortress was originally the holiest place in the Golden City. Yet, what beauty it had left, was now a mere fragment of its past. Corpses were piled in the courtyard, and patches of fresh blood sullied the fortress walls.

And at that moment, Rhode heard the sound of footsteps coming from behind.

Rhode turned his head and saw Lydia slowly pacing towards him. The dress she wore was spotlessly white and had a thin glittering golden silk weaved with silver threads which distinctly highlighted her authority. On her waist, two swords as beautiful and elegant as herself dangled freely.

"This is my country, and my country is my responsibility. Whomsoever resides in my country are my precious possessions, and only I have the rights to decide the fate of their lives. In the name of the Munn Kingdom's Monarch, hear my final decree! Each and every one of you must not only live on for yourself, but also for me. Protect the people as they leave as it is my final command. Heed my words - even until my last breath, I will not allow the Dark Dragon to seize the lives of my people without my permission."

Lydia's words resounded in Rhode's mind even till now. Until the very last moment of her life, the Monarch still treated her the country's populace as her private possessions. She was like a possessive child who would unhesitatingly beat anyone if they took her toys.

Lydia did as she promised.

As one of the three Archangels, Lydia possessed incomparably formidable strength and resilience. As long as the sun continued to shine, Lydia couldn't die. She relied on this ability to resist the Country of Darkness's 150,000 strong army and their four Legendary Generals; even the Dark Dragon itself couldn't defeat Lydia. Just by herself, she succeeded in wiping out 50,000 undead and also wounding three of the four Legendary Generals, forcing them to escape from the battlefield.

On the peak of a blood-stained hill, Lydia fulfilled her promise to the people.

Due to the hard work and sacrifice of the Monarch, the Undead Legion's advancement halted. At sunset, the last boat fully-loaded with civilians and players finally left the port safely.

She did it.

A truly unforgettable scene.

When Rhode approached the blood-stained hills, all around him were rotting piles of undead which released an unbearable putrid smog that was as thick as clouds.

In the heart of the undead graveyard, Lydia knelt on a fresh patch of grass amidst the death and decay. The half-kneeling woman propped herself up with her sword; her head held high as she stared contemptuously at the Undead Legion.

Her beautiful dress was in tatters, and her once flawless body that was envied by many was now riddled with arrows and weapons. Fresh blood trickled down from her head, staining her dress in crimson red.

As the cold wind blew, the last few feathers detached from her once magnificent wings which were now severely mangled.

As Rhode approached, the woman slowly turned her head to his direction.

"Is that so...?" She murmured.

"That's great-..."

Hearing his answer, she revealed a dazzling smile of relief.

Then, for the very first time, the Archangel lowered her prideful head.

At this moment, the sunlight disappeared beyond the horizon. A tiny silver flame erupted and gradually engulfed Lydia's body. After the fire dimmed, only two swords were left in her wake.

Rhode recorded this scene and uploaded onto the web later on. Surprisingly, the video evoked violent reactions from many players. Those who allied themselves to the Munn Kingdom swore to make the Country of Light and Darkness pay.

Meanwhile, Rhode went through a series of emotions, and after some deliberation, he finally decided to give up his identity as a casual player.

Without Lydia, Starlight wouldn't have existed, and neither would there be Rhode. If it weren't for Starlight, perhaps he would've been just a regular high-level player.

While Rhode was lost in his reverie, both Marlene and Lize who stood beside him exchanged curious glances with each other. After all, both of them were considered to be the most well-acquainted with his behavior. It was a rare occurrence for him to be lost in a trance.

Perhaps if it were any other male, after witnessing the dazzling beauty of Lydia, it wouldn't be surprising if they fell into their fantasies.

But Rhode was different. They knew that he wasn't such a person. So what caused him to behave this way?

Still, they didn't question him. Marlene merely made a cough to bring Rhode back to his senses. Fortunately though, as Lydia was giving her closing speech, not too many people noticed his odd behavior.

"The midsummer festival is a celebration for the many brave souls before me. Right here, on this very Scared Arena, we witnessed unshakable faith, unwavering determination, and boundless wisdom through battle. While all of you are the cornerstones of the Munn Kingdom, this time, the winners displayed phenomenal performances and stood out from the masses..."

Lydia paused for a moment before curling her lips into a smile.

"... now I will give my blessings and reward the winners."

President Lauren who stood beside Lydia immediately shouted.

"Let us welcome the winner of the midsummer festival's singles match - Mr. Rhode Alander and Starlight!"

"Ohhhhhh!"

The moment Lauren announced Rhode's name, the people below immediately let out ear-deafening cheers. This was the Northerners' response to the jeering Southerners from before.

The Northerners were previously caught off guard when the Southerners suddenly burst out against Rhode and his group, and they clearly weren't pleased about it. Golden City was their turf - how could the filthy Southerners act so brazen in their city?! So, now that they had the chance to retaliate, they wouldn't spare a thought about using the top of their voices to cheer for Rhode.

Naturally, the Southerners were disgusted with this act. From their perspective, that bastard Rhode was wicked beyond redemption and yet this bunch of Northern idiots cheered for him like he was a hero.

What stupidity! It's practically insanity!

Some of them attempted to jeer, but their voices were already hoarse from before, so they were eventually drowned in the sea of cheers. All they could do now was to stare helplessly as Rhode and his group approached Lydia.

Rhode, Marlene, and Lize were the calmest of the bunch. Rhode had met with Lydia multiple times in the game, naturally he wouldn't get nervous just by seeing her.

Marlene was the heir of the Senia Family and had already known Lydia in her early days.

As for Lize? Her identity said it all. While she hadn't visited Golden City ever since then, she was still Lydia's younger sister after all..., and which younger sister would be nervous when facing their own elder sister?

Meanwhile, the others were torn between laughter and tears. Anne's courage and audacity had reached an entirely new realm altogether. Even when faced with the Monarch of Golden City, the girl retained her carefree self and winked at Lydia as her way of greeting.

Randolf, Joey, and Lapis froze in place like statues - especially Lapis who was as pale as a sheet of paper. They were even worried that she might even faint. If that happened, she would instantly become the talk of the century.

"Mr. Rhode."

A peculiar yet heartwarming sensation washed over Lydia's soul when she saw the man. She clearly perceived some sort of connection to the man standing in front of her whom she had only met twice, as though she met a long lost friend. However, as much as it sounded impossible, the Archangel sensed the sincerity and truthfulness of his gaze, which raised her doubts even further.

Still, she was a Monarch of a huge country, so she had no difficulties in curbing the doubts in her heart.

Then, she revealed a brilliant smile.

"For a leader of a tiny mercenary group to carry his group to victory on his first attempt... it is quite shocking, even to me."

"But at the same time... I'm also terribly delighted..."

Her eyes widened slightly, and her lips curled even further.

"On the Sacred Arena, you've demonstrated your wisdom, bravery, and strength. Furthermore, you've also defeated an evil demon... As promised, I shall grant you a wish."

The Archangel then narrowed her green eyes with a trace of anticipation.

"So then, speak. What is your wish?"