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532 Just the Star

 Witnessing the golden fields of Grosso Plain engulfed in thick smoke and a sea of flames meant that Rhode's mission was completed. This incident no longer had anything to do with him.

And this was the start of a nightmare for the Reformist Party.

Even though the Sulfur River had lasted less than half an hour, it had spread across the entire farmland with the accomplice of dry autumn wind leading the flames on. The entire Grosso region had been shrouded in billows of thick, gray smoke and spreading wildfires demolished everything toward the surrounding forested hills for the next four days. The hard-pressed Reformist Party spent large sums of gold to hire Mages to extinguish the flames, but it was all for naught. The conflagration continued for 15 merciless days before being thoroughly washed away by a rainstorm that came late.

At this point, the Reformist Party was devastated.

In the gruesome 15 days, not only had the foodstuff reserves been completely destroyed, but the neighboring regions had also been dragged into the calamity. Thousands including the villagers that escaped from the Necromancer became homeless as they huddled in the city, facing a hopeless future in despair. These refugees posed a huge problem for the Reformist Party and it wasn't all there was to it. They were also notified of a grievous news. Perhaps due to the long conflagration, the soil in Grosso Plain had turned dry and infertile. In other words, the fertile foodstuff source of the South had been completely crippled and they would face a food shortage six months later.

As the saying, 'it never rains but it pours', goes, the Reformist Party would be too naive if they thought that this was all to their sufferings.

Frightening rumors had been spreading among the civilians. Most were criticizing the Reformist Party's detrimental measures in dealing with the Necromancer. It wasn't a secret anymore that the reinforcements crumbled entirely to the Undead Army's raid when they headed into Grosso Plain. Many of them were aware of the truth that the soldiers were thoroughly defeated without putting up a fight. If it weren't for a brave Battle Angel who fought for them and perished along with the enemies, perhaps the South would have been reduced to a devastated land for the Undeads.

The Reformist Party had taken precautions to prohibit soldiers from spreading 'false' rumors. However, the miscellaneous troops had no dignity to begin with, and many of them were pissed at the Reformist Party for sending them straight to hell purposely. Even though the Reformist Party had put up prohibitions everywhere, the civilians from the surrounding regions were notified of the truth quickly. Moreover, the dazzling, silver-whitish light column was the best proof in their eyes.

Besides, the first worrying signs of a situation for the Reformist Party had finally emerged after the conflagration.

And that was the beginning of the civilians' faltering trust toward their position and authority.

The civilians had opposing views about the Reformist Party's declaration of independence. Most of them didn't protest violently because they lacked favorable impressions of the King's Party under years of influence and the promise of a better future. With the support of the Country of Light, they would become a prosperous, wealthy, peaceful, and independent country. Since their benefits weren't threatened by the war, they didn't see the need to oppose if everything was going to turn out as perfectly as the Reformist Party had depicted. But, what if things didn't turn out that way?

This was the consequence.

The Grosso refugees detested the Reformist Party for not dispatching military troops to fend off the Undead Creatures immediately when they were wreaking havoc in their hometown. Even though the Reformist Party had explained that they lacked manpower due to the battle in the front line, how could they expect the refugees to resist them? You used the resources for an internecine strife instead of fighting off the Undead Creatures for us? What kind of logic was that? Also, the one that rescued us was a Battle Angel! The King's Party laid down an old grudge to help us, so why can't you?!

Of course, members of the Reformist Party called on the civilians to open their eyes wide to the King's Party's conspiracy. This was an operation that they had carried out with the Undead Creatures in tandem. We should calm down and trust the Reformist Party-even though their words tended toward the truth, these words were nothing but crap to the refugees who had lost their families, assets, fields, and everything. The Reformist Party's words were no longer convincing and although the King's Party was truly a troublesome group, no one had ever heard that they would be involved with the Undead Creatures. The refugees immediately believed that the Reformist Party was shrinking responsibilities.

Of course, these victims were only a small group and the Reformist Party didn't need to care for them at all. The Reformist Party chose to ignore them since the victims had refused to listen. However, there were indirect victims involved that they couldn't disregard.

The price of foodstuff in the surrounding regions had suddenly risen several times while merchants stocked up their supplies and were no longer trading. A bread that used to be worth three silver coins cost two gold coins now and there were limited supplies of bread being sold every day.

This caused dissatisfaction among the civilians and their complaints gradually increased. After all, they had not seen anything beneficial about breaking away from the King's Party, instead only experiencing problems. The threat of the Undead Creatures, dark clouds above the battlezones, continuous conflagration, the rise in foodstuff prices, and the filthy, troublesome refugees brought unrest to the social order of the city.

Humans were materialistic creatures. Politicians could choose to look at things from a long-term perspective, but civilians were more concerned about matters happening around them. They thirsted for peace, harmony, and a prosperous environment. They didn't live for the so-called freedom or honorable crap... You want to talk about your ideal when you can't even feed us properly?

If the Reformist Party chose to ignore the refugees, they needed precautions to deal with the increasing complaints. In fact, this matter had been going on as a conflict in their internal department since it was made up of mostly merchants and nobles that opposed the King's Party. The nobles hoped that the merchants would hand out the foodstuff that they had stored up to improve the situation. But the merchants refused to because the foodstuff was their private asset and shouldn't be used for emergency relief, which should be the responsibility of the Southern Parliament. If the Southern Parliament really need the foodstuff, they had to purchase them with the market price! If the merchants had to offer their private assets for the civilians for free, what was the difference between the Southern Parliament and the brutal dictator of the King's Party?!

There were even rumors spreading that the parliament members had broken out in a fight, turning a solemn parliament hall into a brawl venue for gangsters. They finally came to a consensus to purchase foodstuff from the merchants and they would seek assistance from the Country of Light. (They thanked their lucky stars that the coastal shipping routes weren't sealed off.). Also, they had decided to open to the public small-scale granaries in other regions, transporting them to Grosso to stabilize the situation. The South would have no more foodstuff reserves and this was all that they could do for now.

The Reformist Party had a swift and decisive punishment for the problems regarding the Necromancer. General Michael had been imprisoned as their scapegoat, criticized for not fulfilling the responsibility of protecting the people and lost his duties to commanding the Grosso Stronghold. In an afternoon, they made a judgment in court to sentence General Michael into imprisonment for charges of dereliction of duty and failure to command in battle. This was the only decision that they had toward the Necromancer's incident.

The refugees were extremely dissatisfied, but what else could they do? It was apparent that the Reformist Party had no intentions on haggling with this topic after sending General Michael to jail and the civilians had no choice but to accept it.

On the other side, Rhode was heading to his next destination without a care in the world about the Reformist Party's 'misfortunes'-Fiat. Their final lifeline.

Unlike Grosso, Rhode had been hesitant along his way to Fiat.

Fiat was a sealed off mountain city with an abundance of ore mines. Locking down ore mines would be much harder than setting fire on plains, which meant that Rhode couldn't remain hidden in the forest. Not only that, the largest ore mine in Fiat was controlled by two huge families and it would be near impossible for Rhode to sneak through the area undetected or simply walk in with big strides.

Not many would recognize Rhode if he took off his mask in the Grosso region. But he was sure that seven out of ten civilians on the streets would recognize him in Fiat.

The reason was fairly simple.

Fiat was where the Liberty Wings Guild was established, and the birthplace of Rosen.

Rhode never doubted that his performance during the Midsummer Festival would drop his reputation in Fiat to 'Mediocre' or 'Hostile'. If he were to stroll his way into the streets, perhaps he would need to splash and scatter a trail of blood river and skeletons in order to achieve his goal.

Rhode would usually be extremely pleased to welcome anyone for a fight. After casting the [Sulfur River] card that belonged to the [Spell of the Red Lotus], his EXP had dipped to the initial stages of level 40 and even the values at the end of the EXP were filled with a string of irritating zeros. Rhode had no doubt that if he cast [Sulfur River] again or [Seven Hells], he would surely fall under level 40... And it would be totally undesirable.

It was a pity considering that Fiat was part of the Munn Kingdom's territory and he shouldn't take matters into his own hands. If Fiat belonged to him, he wouldn't mind killing those idiots for EXP. But now... He had to rethink this through.

In fact, he did come up with a great idea after leaving Grosso Plain.

'Mama Goose's Liquor Pot' was a pub situated by the Southern Port's periphery and this pub was no different from other pubs on the surface-a two-story lonely building located in the embrace of the forest, serving as a hub to receive travelers. However, the place had been rather unfrequented perhaps due to the recent unrest in the South and the battle between the Reformist Party and the King's Party. In fact, when Rhode opened the entrance door, there was only a middle-aged man sprawled on the bar counter, casually basking in the warmth of the afternoon sun with narrowed eyes. There was no one else other than him and the tables were wiped spotlessly clean. Rhode pulled down his hood to cover his face in shadow and strode toward the man, knocking on the counter in three short and one long rhythm.

"Hmm?" The man enjoying his afternoon nap widened his eyes in surprise. "Ah. Welcome, sir. Is there anything that you would like to have?"

Rhode tapped his right index finger on the counter four times, in three short and one long taps. The man squinted semi-consciously at Rhode's finger and looked at his face as though he hadn't woken up from his sweet dream.

"Ah. Welcome, sir. Is there anything that you would like to have?" He said again.

Rhode lowered his head and glanced at the surroundings, retrieving a bag of coins and placing it on the counter. He loosened the opening and dazzling golden radiance glowed under the bright sun.

"I want someone," Rhode said.

The man finally responded. He took over the bag of coins, hugged it in his arms, and retrieved a parchment from under the counter, as well as a feather pen, placing them before Rhode. Rhode scanned the parchment and scribbled over it swiftly before sliding it back.

'Mama Goose's Liquor Pot' was widely known as simply a pub and only a handful of players knew its secrets. It was classified as a mysterious organization known as the 'Masquerade'. Unlike the 'Dark Brotherhood' who went to the extremes with their bad deeds, murder organizations, or the Thieves Guild, the 'Masquerade' operated along the grey areas. Counterfeit bills, fake identities, clearing one from troublesome matters, and getting in touch with the dark, evil forces that were usually uncontactable. As long as you paid them enough, they could even contact the Dark Spirit hidden deep in the underground.

No one knew its true organizational structure, but its vast network had proven its capabilities. Since this organization seldom deal with atrocious matters, they were more of a useful NPC force for the players. Rhode had once researched about them during his free time in the game, but he gave up after failing to gather any information.

Of course, Rhode didn't come here to continue his unfinished business in the game.

He had other motives.