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578 Lapiss Worries

 Shortly after, Rhode met the group of men which Anne had mentioned standing by the Fortress entrance.

Indeed, judging from their appearance, they seemed like the bunch of idiots that had tried to barge into the alchemy workshop. They were dressed in the same red and white striped robe and a hat with a wide brim which only Alchemists wore. However, Rhode quickly detected the differences between them and that bunch of idiots. This group of men was slightly older at about 50 to 60 years old while the oldest man of the earlier bunch was at most over 30. Besides, these Alchemists gave an impression which was more in line with what most people had of them-cultivated and refined in manner. Compared to them, the bunch of idiots was more like uninvited bandits.

Due to the previous conflicts, the mercenaries weren't that friendly against uninvited guests. They encircled the Alchemists with weapons in hand while the Alchemists watched on silently without any grumbles or resentment.

However, Rhode wasn't too mindful of this. Instead, the senior that stood in the front of the group caught his attention. The tall and sturdy senior had a long white beard that extended to his waist. He wore a golden-framed monocle over his right eye and carried a thick, hardcover golden book under his armpit. He resembled those NPC scholars who would appear in hero games and guide adventurers who had lost their way. However, Rhode's heart sank slightly as soon as he spotted him.

"I didn't expect this guy to be here." Rhode knitted his brows and turned to Canary. "Canary, I'll leave them to you. Although the Alchemist Association won't stir trouble for no good reason, it must be regarding something difficult since they sent this old fellow here. Help me 'receive' them and I'll be right back."

"Where are you heading to, Rhode?" asked Canary.

"I'm gonna look for Lapis," Rhode perked up his eyebrow. "I think she must be hiding something from me. Got to say, I didn't expect that she kept such a secret... I'm rather curious to see what else other than the Behermes Lapis is keeping a secret from me."

As soon as Rhode entered the alchemy workshop, he spotted Lapis sitting by the corner nervously, as well as Christie and the little mermaid. Got to say, Christie indeed had a unique charm. Rhode discovered that his spirits had favorable impressions of her. Not only Gillian and Celia, but even Celestina with the vicious tongue seldom commented about Christie. Celestina dared to mock anyone before Rhode, but she always remained opinionless about Christie. It was the same for Snow. She was a newborn summoned spirit who had just been created in this world and was filled with curiosity and fear. Ever since Rhode had summoned her, she had never left Rhode's side at all and had always hidden from others including Anne and Lize during their way back to the Fortress. Although Anne and Lize had constantly showered Snow with smiles and care, she still wasn't willing to interact with them. On the contrary, Snow and Christie only looked face to face with each other and they had gotten so close together as though they were sisters who didn't meet for years. Although Rhode didn't know how Christie interacted with the little mermaid who couldn't speak, he felt fortunate that he could hide from the little mermaid and meet up with Canary and Bubble to discuss his new swordsmanship.

The little mermaid hovered in the air and looked through her water ball curiously at the white paper on the desk. Meanwhile, Christie revealed her rare, excited side as she drew on the white paper. Both of them were so engrossed that they didn't notice Rhode's presence. On the other hand, Lapis jumped off her chair and peeped at Rhode with uncertainty and a pale complexion, like a child who was afraid of her parents reprimanding her for failing a test.

Rhode let out a bitter laugh inwardly as he observed Lapis' behaviors. He beckoned to Lapis for a talk in the room. Lapis hesitated for a moment before dilly dallying her way there. She was behaving as though she was about to step into an execution ground.

"Have a seat." Rhode closed the door and gazed at the bewildered Lapis. He didn't expect that this young lady who appeared to be reserved and often trembling with fear had actually hidden a secret from him. He was too surprised by this...

Lapis nodded with her conditioned reflex and sat on the chair over cautiously. However, before she had even adjusted her posture properly, she quickly stood to her feet and gazed at Rhode like a puppy who was about to be abandoned by its owner. "S-Sir Rhode, I didn't mean... mean to hide it from you... I..."

"Alright, Lapis, calm down." Rhode felt somewhat amused as he gazed at the frantic young lady. It seems like I must pay more attention to Lapis in case she gets headhunted by others.

Come to think of it, it was actually hilarious that the Alchemist Master of the Behermes Royal Family actually has such weak mental qualities. If Rhode could transform Lapis' attributes into values, perhaps her 'determination' points didn't even have 5 points.

"I'm not blaming you. No matter the problem between you and the Alchemist Association, you are still a part of the Guild and the Alchemist Association must be daydreaming to think that they can simply snatch anyone away from me. So just relax and tell me what exactly is going on. Why are the people of the Alchemist Association here for you?"

"..." Lapis finally heaved a long sigh of relief. She hopped back on her seat and rubbed her hands together before gazing at Rhode worriedly. "Sir Rhode... You won't chase me away... Right?"

"I won't." Rhode felt angry and hilarious at the same time and he was left speechless by this pitiful Alchemist Master. After all, most Alchemists were required to go through events for growth and their temperament, character, and willpower would be polished from them. However, Lapis was different. If it weren't for the opportunities and coincidences, she wouldn't have received the Behermes' Alchemy knowledge and alchemy techniques in the Master Stage. It could also be said that they had fallen into her lap and even though she held skills in the Master Stage, her way of thinking was still that of a little apprentice.

However, this wasn't the problem that Rhode was mindful about. He was more concerned about when Lapis began to 'fool around' with the Alchemist Association.

After Lapis had been assured that Rhode wouldn't chase her away from the Guild or shut her in afterward, she laid down the burden and explained everything to Rhode in full details. Actually the entire situation wasn't that complicated. After Rhode had left the Fortress and headed into Paphield, a visitor from another region came to the alchemy workshop and hoped that Lapis could concoct a potion for him. Lapis was curious about his request, but even though she was cowardly, she wasn't foolish. Her alchemy workshop was the Guild's property and it shouldn't be used to help outsiders concoct potions and create Constructs. However, that man was sincere and persistent. Not only did he fork out huge sums of money as remuneration, but he had also revealed his identity: the visitor was a member of the Alchemist Association and he came to the Fortress after he had heard about Lapis. Not only that, but he also told Lapis that if she could help her concoct the potion, he would write a recommendation letter for her to join the Alchemist Association.

This was also the point that had caught Lapis' attention. After all, even though she possessed alchemy skills of the Master Stage, she was still an apprentice in status. If Lapis could be recommended by someone and enter the Alchemist Association to be 'recognized' as a true Alchemist, it would undoubtedly be a dream come true for her.

"So, have you agreed?" Rhode said with twitched brows.

He knew that Lapis wasn't a firm person and that her true status was only an apprentice. However, he didn't take these matters to heart because, firstly, he had been occupied with other matters and Lapis' 'apprentice' status wasn't something within his considerations. Secondly, Rhode didn't know that status was something important to her. So what if Lapis was an 'apprentice'? She was an Alchemist Master who had the authentic skills, so why must he be bothered about the false reputation?

Got to say, Rhode's thoughts were indeed somewhat biased. When one had reached the high standards which Rhode had accomplished, false reputation was no longer important. The true Alchemist Masters in the game mainly lived in the faraway mountains and forests with strange personalities and were unconcerned about fame. No matter how skillful Lapis was, her mentality was the same as ordinary humans who thirsted for fame and recognition to stand on a bigger stage... Which wasn't a crime at all.

"N-No!" Lapis waved her hands frantically. She lowered her head and trembled in fear. "I didn't know what I should do too... Sir Rhode, I have thought of discussing this with someone, but Miss Canary and Miss Bubble weren't around most of the time... As for the others... they couldn't help much... Besides... Besides..."

"Besides what?" said Rhode.

"Besides... That man said... If I can become an approved Alchemist, I can apply for some free alchemy materials from the Alchemist Association... That way, the Guild's alchemy equipment can be..."

"..." Rhode let out a long sigh.

After going through all these, it seems like I'm still the one responsible...

Indeed, Rhode knew that there was such a rule in the Alchemist Association and the higher the level of the Alchemist, the more free alchemy materials the Alchemist could receive. It was only reasonable that Lapis couldn't resist this temptation. After all, even though Lapis could create alchemy equipment and concoct potions in the Guild, most of them were extremely basic in conditions. Even Rhode wouldn't be willing to if he had to do things simply and thriftily forever. Moreover, Lapis had a lot on her shoulders and the modification of the Stone Construct itself could waste a whole lot of her time and energy. It was also related to the lack of sufficient materials in Rhode's hands.

"This isn't your fault, Lapis..." Rhode let out a bitter laugh and patted her shoulder. "Alright, lift your head. I guess the situation isn't that simple, right? Although I'm not too pleased that you've made a decision without permission, this, after all, is my responsibility. If the situation of the Guild wasn't this terrible, I'm sure you wouldn't have chosen such a solution... You're not the one at fault. Lift up your head, Lapis. I guess you're not only worried about this, right?"

"Yes..." Lapis wiped the corners of her eyes lightly and lifted her head. "Although it is also partly because of this... But, Sir Rhode... I'm afraid..."

"You're afraid?" Rhode puckered his brows slightly. "What are you afraid of?"

"T-The potion..." Lapis's expression turned pale once again and she stuttered in uncertainty. "That man... asked me to concoct... a bad potion..."

"Is it poison?" Rhode's heart skipped a bit. If that was true, the situation would be troublesome.

"I-I don't know," Lapis shook her head and tears rolled down her cheeks. "That man told me that it was to test my alchemy skills. The recipe and materials were provided by him while I was only responsible for completing it... A-Although I didn't know what the potion was, the composition of the materials used seemed to be something immoral... I don't think it will poison someone to death, but it might trigger a serious illness to weaken someone..."

"..." Rhode knitted his brows as he had vaguely figured out the truth of the incident. "Lapis."

"Yes... Sir."

"Is that bottle of potion difficult to concoct?"

"Yes... Yes, Sir," Lapis pondered with a frown and nodded firmly. "Ordinary alchemy techniques will not be able to complete it because the timing and content of the materials must be captured perfectly. Besides... the potion also required some knowledge of the Behermes Family in order to concoct."

Rhode nodded. "Got it, Lapis. Don't leave the alchemy workshop for now and stay with Christie and Snow. I will get Anne and Lize to accompany you. Don't worry about the Alchemist Association because you have me, Canary, and Bubble around."

Lapis cheeks flushed and lowered her head shyly. Since Rhode was aware of the reason, there was no further purpose for him to stay here. He told Christie and Snow to stay put and look after Lapis before heading back into the Fortress.

As Rhode was about to enter the Fortress, Joey rushed over hurriedly with sweat pouring down his face. "Ah, Boss, I finally found you. I thought of looking for you in the workshop and I didn't expect to meet you here. But that's fine too..." Joey let out an awkward cough after remembering his purpose of finding Rhode. "By the way, do you remember telling me to dispatch my men to tail the few men in flowery clothes and see what they're up to in the Land of Atonement? Heh, those Alchemists are a bunch of idiots. They weren't even aware that they were being followed at all. If you didn't get us to track them only, our brothers would've..."

"Get straight to the point," Rhode interrupted harshly.

The young Thief let out an awkward laugh and continued. "Uh... Although those idiots weren't on high alert, they weren't that foolish to spill the beans. Our men followed them for a while and managed to acquire some information... According to them, those people are here because... because..." Joey displayed a face of disbelief. "They said Lapis poisoned someone from the Alchemist Association."