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612 He & She I

 Marlene stood by the window and gazed at the picturesque city glowing in radiance of gold. However, her thoughts had drifted to the far southern seaside. She remembered how the sun shone on the clear azure sea and the fishy smell that assailed her nostrils. There wasn't a single trace of cloud in the sky as the massive magical fleet sailed and stole the show from the sun slowly. Billows of smoke hovered above the harbor city and indistinct screams and mourns could be heard from the distance.

The battle had ended.

The farce of the Reformist Party's independence that lasted almost half a year was finally about to end in this late autumn. As winter approached, autumn would end completely like withered leaves that had fallen to the ground. After the Chairman of the Southern Parliament committed suicide by consuming poison, the Reformist Party crumbled entirely as they lost their main backbone and turned into a complete mess. Not only that, but internal chaos also arose among them. After the Royal Fleet had sealed off the Southern Port, the entire Southern region had been crippled and the Southern Parliament also faced unprecedented fears and pressure. The Chairman had it easy because, no matter what, he was safe from the fate of getting his neck hung in Golden City. However, the others weren't that fortunate. The Southern Port had been sealed off and no ship could enter or exit. The current battle in the front line was intense while the unstable rear was filled with Barbarians penetrating into the Southern hinterland. The core members of the Reformist Party were petrified and the magic fleet's emergence also meant the chances of the Country of Light's Parliament sending help had become zero. Therefore, their only choices left were to either give up, run to the Barbarians' territory with all their lives, or pass through the borders to enter the Country of Darkness.

However, all the three choices led to death for members of the Reformist Party.

They knew how vicious Lydia was and nobody would believe that she was an honorable and kind-hearted Archangel. In fact, there were many times where many people's evaluation of her were accurate and that was her 'tyrannical' trait. She sought riches, pleasures, and loved grand banquets. She would cruelly put down those who resisted her and perhaps even Humans couldn't be this demanding. But she could.

This was also why the Reformist Party would rather grit their teeth to struggle than to give up. They knew that the gibbet would be awaiting them at the end of the road as soon as they surrendered. Of course. Lydia wouldn't execute their whole family unto the third generation, like ancient sovereigns. However, she also wouldn't capture the principal offender and let the others off-no one would be spared.

It was due to this understanding of Lydia that the Reformist Party's core members wouldn't surrender no matter what.

However, the other two choices weren't hopeful for them either.

The wasteland of the Barbarians wasn't enveloped in the Order Forcefield and the people there were barbaric, violent, and recognized strength only. It didn't matter how high one's position was in the Munn Kingdom was or the amount of wealth one had because they were meaningless. Moreover, it was located near the Dragon Souls where the Order Forcefield had become unstable with and days and nights were of varying lengths. The areas which wasn't enveloped in the Order Forcefield was much more terrifying and it was basically impossible for ordinary humans to survive.

The Country of Darkness wasn't a great choice either.

Everyone knew that the Country of Darkness was a nation of Undeads and Humans had low statuses there. Even though the statuses of the Humans had increased due to the existence of one of the Four Legendary Generals, 'The Conqueror', Garcia, it only influenced some of the Humans. In the Country of Darkness, most of the Humans were either slaves or meals for the Vampires. Therefore, even if they passed through the borders safely, they wouldn't face any better endings.

What left the Reformist Party in desperation was that although the Country of Darkness and the Country of Light had a terrible relationship, their ties with the Munn Kingdom were rather decent. If Lydia requested for the Country of Darkness to hand over the Reformist Party's core members, there was no guarantee that they wouldn't send them back!

They could either turn into corpses instantly or serve as slaves before eventually turning into corpses. It was only the difference between death penalties and deferred death sentences, which wasn't a huge difference for them because there weren't any possibilities for them to appeal for their cases.

As of now, they could only drag it out day by day and for as long as possible.

However, they had forgotten that human nature was selfish, where one could neglect the death of others as long as one could survive.

The core members of the Reformist Party were the minority, after all. Most of the other members weren't willing to die along with them. Previously, they didn't dare to wreak havoc when the Chairman was still alive. But now, they had toughened up and believed that the Chairman's suicide meant that everything had ended entirely and they had no chances of winning! If they didn't surrender, only death would be waiting for them!

It was due to this that the internal department of the Reformist Party erupted into chaos.

'A small stubborn core molecule' failed to take effect in the 'vast ocean of people'. Not only that, but the 'traitors' also took the initiative and released the Southern Legion's ex-chief commanders who were captured by the Reformist Party. And this marked the end of the so-called Southern independence of the Reformist Party.

What happened next wasn't worth mentioning. The Southern Legion that was stationed in Callenbach City broke out into chaos after they learned that the Chairman had committed suicide. The King's Party seized this chance and encircled Callenbach City from the rear and cut off their source of supplies, which trapped the Southern Legion entirely. After three continuous failed attempts to break through, the defenders in Callenbach City surrendered without any resistance.

Everything that Marlene saw when she entered the Southern Port had been etched in her memories. She had been to the Southern Port in the past and it used to be an orderly and beautiful city. The pedestrians on the streets wore brightly colored clothes and conversed courteously with their heads held high as though their futures were filled with glimmering hope. Got to say, those Southerners indeed had the qualifications to look down on the Northerners who always behaved crudely and wore roughly manufactured clothing.

But this time, it was entirely different.

Bloody corpses and carcasses had tainted the clean streets and putrid smell spread all over the city. Several bloated corpses were also seen on the beautiful, azure bay. Residents who appeared malnourished and sickly hid in their homes in shabby clothes, peeping from the windows at the King's Party soldiers entering their city. No one maintained the neatly aligned houses and the recent riots had crushed the magnificent city into a pit for beggars.

What a disaster.

Marlene shut her eyes and tried to forget about the unpleasant scenes in her mind. If it were Lize, perhaps she would pity the unfortunate people. However, Marlene wouldn't because she didn't feel that they deserved sympathy. This was their choice and they paid the price for it. As for whether the price was a bit too high, it wasn't within her concerns.

In just two days, Lydia had taken decisive actions against them. She captured every single one of the core members and threw them into jail. Her punishment for them was exceedingly grave: she confiscated all their property and wealth and turned them back to ordinary civilian status. Apart from those that were confirmed to be hanged, the others would receive different extents of punishment.

To the Reformist Party, Lydia's actions were drastically vicious because almost everyone who participated in the armed rebellion was a noble or a merchant. They held large properties under their names, which was why they dared to fight against the King's Party.

Almost all the trade associations and nobles of the South had been wiped out by Lydia and it could be considered pulling the rug from under the Reformist Party's feet. This also meant that they wouldn't have sufficient strength to resist the King's Party in the future.

Lydia's actions would certainly raise protests from the civilian workers because her actions weren't just about wiping out the foundations of the Reformist Party. All the trade associations were managed by civilian workers and now that the trade associations had all been seized by the King's Party, it would mean that the livelihood of all civilian workers would be affected. Perhaps a riot would have been in place in peacetime.

But now, the high and mighty Southerns accepted this arrangement without saying a word. They were like beautiful greenhouse flowers and Lydia had smashed the protective glasses and completely drenched them under the violent storm. After the cleansing of the storm, the fully bloomed flowers withered thoroughly. The cruel reality smashed their imaginations and educated them that a war wasn't only just about glory and cheers. Instead, a war was a path that led to destruction and deaths and they had chosen this path foolishly.

"Miss Marlene."

Marlene turned around and spotted her personal female servant looking at her respectfully.

"The banquet is about to begin..."

"Got it. I will get changed now."

Marlene stole a final glance at the tranquil sceneries of Golden City. Then, she turned around without hesitations and entered the room.

***

Rhode stepped out of the chariot and gazed at the lofty, majestic castle beaming in golden radiance. He couldn't help but whistle in awe.

After awakening Gracier and Madaras, Rhode didn't return to the Land of Atonement immediately. This was because Gillian had informed him of the invitation letter from the King's Party to participate in the grand banquet organized in Golden City. Although Rhode's time had been occupied by the twin daggers and he disregarded the battle between the King's Party and the Reformist Party, he had confirmed that the Reformist Party was done for. In fact, it was as Rhode had expected.

Lydia wiped out the entire Southern base, where it was the home for hundreds of nobles and trade associations. After the battle, the Southern Legion and their fleet had to be cleaned and rebuilt on the large scale. It was impossible for no one to be disinterested in a huge slice of cake placed before them. Rhode was also clear that even though Lydia organized this grand banquet to celebrate the victory against the Reformist Party, she had no intentions of sharing the cake.

It was due to this that Rhode had left the Elf Forest and brought Anne and Lize into Golden City. But this time, he had an uninvited guest with him.

"So... This is Golden City..."

Corina stepped out of the chariot and gazed in awe at the magnificent castle.

Rhode turned around and stole a glance at her.

Rhode was surprised that Corina had joined him here. In fact, he didn't expect the Elf Queen to request sending Corina to the Land of Atonement with him when he took his leave.

Of course. Rhode knew that young Elves would often travel while undertaking some obligations. Back then, Corina had traveled into Soraka Mountain as the representative for the Country of Law and her duties were naturally fulfilled now that Soraka Mountain no longer existed. However, Rhode didn't expect that the Queen Elf would send Corina to the Land of Atonement!

The Queen Elf explained that she wished to closely examine the aftermath which the Duke Fiend had left. However, Rhode knew that this was a lie that would only work on children. If she truly wished to observe, why didn't she send Corina over and get Rhode to go to the Elf Forest instead? Rhode wasn't sure why the Queen Elf had made this decision. However, he approved of her decision because he knew that the Country of Light and Country of Darkness would break out into a war soon and his Land of Atonement would definitely be one of the front line. When that happened, with Corina helping in the Fortress, perhaps she could drag the Country of Law into the situation and strengthen his forces. So, how would Rhode let this opportunity slip? Moreover, Rhode was clear of Corina's talents and with her help, he would have an easier time defending his Fortress.

Strictly speaking, it wasn't a good thing to allow Corina to be by his side. Rhode knew that his method of work would be disapproved by the Elves based on the understanding of human culture. However, he couldn't care less. The war would begin in about a year and as long as he didn't take it too far and upset Corina, everything would be fine. Anyway, Rhode was an expert in disguise and it wouldn't be anything tough for him.

But now, Rhode had focused his attention on the golden castle. His mind was thinking about another person who he hadn't seen in a long while: Marlene.

Strictly speaking, Marlene was the first woman who Rhode had after he came to this world (Canary wasn't counted, of course.). First love would always be etched into one's memory, not to mention one's first sexual encounter. Even though she hadn't been following him for a long time, her contributions in developing Starlight weren't anywhere less insignificant than his. It could also be said that Starlight perhaps wouldn't be growing this steadily if she didn't exist.

However, Rhode was clear that Marlene couldn't possibly stay in Starlight as his adjutant forever. She was the only heir of the Senia Family. Besides, compared to a less important character like Rhode who only ambushed enemies from the rear and did nothing else, her performances were striking. Not only did she lead her team of Mages and resist against the Reformist Party continuously, but she had also coordinated the encirclement around Callenbach City. Of course, this wasn't due to her natural talent in military tactics. After going on countless adventures with Rhode, she had tremendous growth in her understanding and mastery of magic.

It was also due to this that Marlene performed outstandingly well in the battle. She had taken off the title of a 'rare magical genius who only appeared once in a hundred years' and was officially recognized as a 'young and formidable Mage'. It could be said that her hard work had been recognized.

On the way to Golden City, Rhode had heard several rumors about the remarkable Marlene. Some also mentioned that she might join the Court Mage Guards and become Grand Mage Amund's assistant or possibly the next Court Grand Mage. There were some rumors that mentioned she might receive brand new territory and an honorable title.

Rhode knew that Marlene was more than qualified to receive these rewards. Unlike him, she was born into a prestigious family and had always been the center of attention. This was why such results weren't surprising at all. Everyone knew that she was the heir of the Senia Family and a rare magical genius and she would definitely succeed if she worked hard for it. However, the situation was different for Rhode. No matter how outstanding his performances were, he had only appeared before everyone in a short period of time. As a result, the nobles were much more dubious of him as compared to Marlene. This was apparent from when Lydia bestowed him the feudal rank. She must have considered this factor and therefore, given him the lowest Baron rank. On the contrary, perhaps Marlene might be bestowed the rank of an Earl if she were in his place.

Rhode felt rather reluctant to part with her.

Perhaps Marlene's feelings toward him wouldn't change, but who knew? They would see each other so much less after she left the Guild and distance was always the biggest enemy to a loving relationship. Based on Rhode's experiences, he knew that their feelings would become dull if they couldn't meet due to various reasons. Moreover, Rhode had no lack of women around him. If everything didn't work out, the Senia Family would perhaps search for another well-matched family in order to continue the family lineage or Marlene wouldn't consider marrying others at all. No matter what, that had nothing to do with Rhode.

Rhode felt annoyed at the thought of this possible future. He had always been snatching women away from others and never lost... Is this the rhythm leading to failure?

Rhode didn't know what to feel. He was glad that Marlene's growth had been recognized, but the thought of her leaving Starlight left him feeling out of sorts.

But...

Rhode let out a helpless sigh and threw this matter to the back of his head.

At the very least, he was about to meet Marlene soon.