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538 A Strange Rumor

 The next morning, Rhode followed Emily's lead on the chariot to the silver ore mine operated by the Edward Trade Association. Of course, Rhode had heard from Emily that her father, the Chairman of the Edward Trade Association, would receive him personally and discuss the business trade with her. Rhode wasn't surprised by this arrangement. Even though his disguise was outstanding and his identity of coming from the Country of Light was a great cover, merchants would always be merchants, and no matter how profane, money-making was their main priority. If Rhode didn't bring out enough sincerity and attitude, the Edward Trade Association wouldn't be blindly deceived by him.

"That's the excavation mine that our Edward Trade Association controls, Miss Seren." Emily pointed delightfully and Rhode nodded in agreement. He narrowed his eyes and turned toward where she had pointed. The image looked exactly the same as in his memory. Nothing had changed.

"It's a pity that Miss Celestina is feeling unwell and she can't come on this trip with us..."

Emily's words dragged Rhode out of his reverie. He simply smiled and Celia, who was seated beside them, tilted her head curiously and gazed at her Master. It was apparent that this Battle Angel wasn't convinced of Rhode's excuse of Celestina not acclimatizing to the environment. After all, Celia knew better than anyone else what her elder sister had been up to.

However, she was rather inquisitive about the exact happenings last night.

Although Celestina was a formidable presence in her eyes, Rhode wasn't a Master who was easy to deal with. He was smart, decisive, cunning, and sometimes sinister. Moreover, he was never mindful about his pride nor appearance. As a Holy Sword Spirit Card, Celia maintained her self-conscious even when she wasn't in human form. But she was more like a spectator instead of a participant when she was in her weapon form.

Due to this reason, Celia had observed Rhode's battle style countless times and frankly speaking, she wasn't able to accept its cruelty. There were many times when he performed shamelessly and was unregretful after the whole incident. What made her knit her brows the most was that Rhode was different from the humans she had met before. The humans would find an excuse for themselves after doing a bad deed, but Rhode would behave as though he liked to do it. This crazy wildness was somewhat unbearable for a kind, orderly Battle Angel. But she eventually tolerated this point of his because this was her mission and she understood the situation. No matter what, at least he was progressing in the situation and she admitted that there were indeed many situations that couldn't be resolved by screaming justice slogans.

This was why Celia didn't believe that Celestina could give Rhode a hard time. But she also didn't feel that Rhode would do anything to Celestina. After all, they were summoned spirits who had a Master-Slave relationship, where not only did the spirits need to respect their Master, but the Master must also return a certain extent of respect back. Celia observed that Rhode had always treasured his summoned spirits, which was why she felt that even though Celestina was taken advantage of, she would just yell out in fluster and exasperation and everything would return to its usual state.

But this time, the situation was apparently different.

Celestina shut herself in her room and refused to come out, asserting that she needed more rest because she wasn't acclimatized to the environment. This reason was still plausible for an outsider like Emily, but it sounded totally like an excuse for another summoned spirit like Celia. Although Celia did check in with Celestina spiritually, Celestina stuck to the statement that she simply needed more rest and Celia had no choice but to accept that explanation.

However, even though Celia wasn't aware of what had exactly happened, there was something that she was sure about. Master must have tortured Celestina bad enough. She had been with Celestina for so many years and this was the first time she had seen her that miserable. If it were in the past, Celestina's arrogant nature would force her to stand out, no matter what failures she had faced. Celestina and Rhode were similar in a certain aspect. They were determined to do what they wished to and they wouldn't come up with any excuses after doing it, no matter if the consequences were good or bad. Therefore, if it were a normal conflict, it wouldn't be possible for Celestina to behave like an ostrich. This proved that she was afraid of Rhode...

But... What exactly did Master do to Big Sister?

This question lingered in her mind. This pure Battle Angel counterpart racked her brains and she couldn't figure out what methods Rhode used to discipline her elder sister. Could it be that both of them fought? And Master defeated Big Sister? That isn't too possible... Even though Big Sister's powers were diminished due to the seal, their fight wouldn't end easily if they had fought seriously and I would surely have detected some signs of activities.

In fact, Celia's guesses weren't exactly wrong. Last night, Rhode and Celestina had indeed gone into a 'huge battle', and Celestina surrendered to Rhode's 'violent smashes'...

The chariot entered the mine.

Unlike the busy mines in Deep Stone City, this mine seemed relatively unfrequented and the atmosphere was rather tense. Rhode knew the cause of that. The instant he exited the chariot, he spotted a dozen fully armed soldiers surrounding the mine, holding crossbows and swords, backs against the group. It seemed that they weren't preventing miners from escaping, but to stand guard from intruders.

"You must feel surprised, Miss Seren," Emily showed a bitter smile. "These are our Edward Trade Association's private soldiers. They are here to guard against outsiders who are looking to cause trouble in our mine... After all... This is in the deep mountains and sometimes there will be..."

Emily paused while Rhode had understood their purpose.

It was apparent that the private soldiers were guarding against the Howard Family members. In Fiat, the secret struggles between the two families were known to the public. But this was great news for Rhode because he was pondering on schemes to incite the Edward Trade Association and now, it seemed that the Reformist Party's declaration of independence had tensed up the mood in here. The air around him was as though filled with gunpowder and it would explode so soon as he lit a spark.

Emily led the group into the mine and Rhode spotted the Edward Trade Association Chairman, Phillip Edward: a tall, slim man with two artistic mustaches above his lips. He wore a ridiculous scarlet, skintight outfit and a hat of peacock feathers. Edward was surprised to see that the woman arriving to discuss business with him was such an outstanding beauty. He actually turned up his nose when he first heard from his subordinates about Rhode and his two maids. This was what most normal men thought. Beautiful women were nothing more than just flower vases. They were visually attractive but useless in reality. Moreover, a merchant's nature was to upsell an ordinary item. This was why Edward refused to take his subordinates' words seriously. But now, this experienced and knowledgeable merchant's pupils shrunk instantly. He gazed at the black-haired young lady unbelievably like the entire world had turned black and white apart from her. "Greetings, Miss Seren."

Of course, as a Chairman, Edward didn't drool like the village workers. Instead, he smiled and approached her with an extended arm. Rhode smiled and held his hand. "Greetings, Chairman Edward. I'm Miranda Seren... I think you are aware of my purpose for coming to Fiat. As a reputable Trade Association in the Fiat region, I'm sure you won't let us down."

"That's for sure, Miss Seren," Edward nodded hurriedly. If he had some doubts about Rhode's identity, these words from Rhode were enough for him to dispel his doubts. Although Rhode responded ordinarily, Edward sensed an aura from 'her'. It wasn't the overbearing arrogance of young people, and neither was it the enticement of powerless 'flower vases'. Instead, it was an overwhelming pressure like a massive mountain standing before travelers who had to lower their heads and travel around it.

Even though knowledge, appearance, and style of conversation could be disguised, a person's natural temperament couldn't. Edward was confident in his foresight and intuition. It would suit Rhode's identity even more with an arrogant and determined attitude because the Country of Light was much stronger than the Munn Kingdom and their people had always looked down on those in the Munn Kingdom. Moreover, even though this 'Miss Seren' was the one who initiated the business trade, Edward knew clearly that the one who wished to seize this opportunity was himself. The other party was obviously aware of this, and this was why she assumed this gesture.

Edward conversed with Rhode for a while and both sides ended up with a satisfactory result. Rhode hinted to Edward that in addition to representing the Seren Trade Association for business purposes, there was also a disguised form of support from the Country of Light to the Southern Reformist Party, which was naturally heavenly news for the Edward Trade Association, which belonged to the Reformist Party's camp. After listening to Rhode's hint, Edward adjusted his attitude swiftly. He knew that his Trade Association was a small force neglected by the Reformist Party. This was why in Fiat, the Edward Trade Association couldn't entirely eradicate the Howard Trade Association, which was snatching his business. If I received the support of the Reformist Party, the entire Fiat region would've already belonged to the Edward Trade Association!

Harboring such a thought, Edward behaved exceptionally passionate because he knew that if he could be linked to the financial groups in the Country of Light through the Seren Trade Association, his position in the Reformist Party would develop tremendously. Of course, Rhode was aware of his plans and adapted to his taste. Rhode wasn't here to blather pointlessly. After a while, he made it known that he wished to enter the mine to investigate the situation.

But Edward revealed signs of reluctance. "Of course, Miss Seren. But the mine is a little dangerous and there is dust everywhere. Are you sure..."

"I'm also a merchant, Chairman Edward. As merchants, isn't it only right to investigate our commodities?"

"That... that's true, Miss Seren," Edward nodded helplessly, which raised a few doubts. Rhode knitted his brows slightly and gazed at Edward before turning to Emily. "Is there something wrong with Chairman Edward?"

"Eh? Miss Seren?"

Rhode's sudden question flustered Edward. Although it was only for a moment, Edward quickly regained his cool. But it seemed that things weren't that simple for Rhode.

"How can there be any problems, Miss Seren. It's just that the dirty mine will stain the clothes of a beautiful lady like you. Besides, you are also aware that the miners are a bunch of barbarians who don't know manners. I'm afraid that they'll offend you..."

"Are there really no problems at all?" Rhode looked into Edward's eyes sharply.

Edward shrunk his body unknowingly. He felt her stare was as though a sharp knife puncturing his heart. He let out an awkward laugh and retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the sweat on his forehead. "That... actually, I heard from the foreman that they discovered some movements in the deep mine these past two days. Although it didn't disrupt our daily operations, everyone was rather worried. That's why... Miss Seren, you'd better not head down for safety's sake."

"Oh?" Rhode responded in surprise. He knew that there were no creatures in this mine before the Earth Element creature's seal was unlocked. But now, the seal was still intact and there shouldn't be any creatures down there.

Could it be...

A thought cropped up in his mind. "There shouldn't be any danger since it doesn't affect the daily operations, Mr. Edward. I would like to personally take a look if it's possible, to understand the actual situation. If not..." Rhode paused on purpose and he smiled at Edward who was dripping with sweat. "I'm worried that the extraction speed of your Trade Association wouldn't meet our demands."

"... Alright then..." Edward sighed hopelessly.

After all, he knew that 'Miss Seren' had discovered that something was wrong with the mine, and his Trade Association would be in the short end of the stick if he continued to stop her from entering. Furthermore... That was nothing more than just a rumor, so it shouldn't be anything problematic...

Edward let out a long sigh.