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690 Storm Clouds Approach

 Rhode completed his final piece of the puzzle with Gillian's return. It could also be said that a complete system had been established. Marlene would be in charge of the territory, controlling the finances, internal affairs, and diplomatic works of Grenbell. On the other hand, Ann Clark had officially become Rhode's subordinate and worked for him. Also, as Marlene's assistant, Ann was responsible for business negotiations with foreign trade associations and merchants. According to Marlene, this young lady had great potential. Even though she lacked experience in dealing with people, she was sensitive to economic changes and business negotiations. She could sharply catch the loopholes and traps in discussions and contracts. Although she was still too immature to be an 'evil businesswoman', Marlene believed that she would be a capable assistant in the near future.

Orchid Heart was put in charge in terms of military. She was responsible for the recruitment of soldiers, training, and mobilizing, which could also be considered the busiest department in Rhode's territory. Currently, Rhode didn't have a specific military concept and he left John in charge of administering it for the time being. As John had to manage his Cavalrymen, he didn't have much time to put in enough attention on the Infantries. Therefore, even though Rhode's subordinates appeared seemingly impressive, there weren't a lot of private soldiers under him. Moreover, John had about a hundred Cavalrymen under him and fortunately, Rhode only had to maintain the social order in the Fortress and Canary and Mini Bubble Gum were around to watch over things. If not, the small number of private soldiers under him would be in complete chaos.

But the situation took a huge turn after Orchid Heart took office. She only had one requirement for the soldiers under her: obedient. It didn't matter if they lacked an arm or leg; it would be sufficient if they fulfilled the requirements, could battle, and display their loyalty.

Under such 'loose' terms, the vigorous recruitment work began instantly. The Fortress was much livelier than before, with the massive migration from the people of nearby regions. Now that people had heard of the overlord's recruitment to his private army, there were a whole lot of people who signed up and most of them passed the interview. However, even though they were recruited, they didn't have rich battle experiences. This was why Rhode promoted a group of experienced mercenaries from Starlight and with the support of the Reputation System, he could easily pick out those who were loyal and respectful toward him to manage and train the newcomers. Among the mercenaries, many of them were kicked out of the military and were extremely familiar with the military style. Besides, they were skilled at their jobs, which resolved a huge trouble for Rhode. The mercenaries welcomed this decision with opened arms. The reason why they had joined Starlight earlier was because they hoped to be valued highly by Rhode to eventually become his henchmen. And now, not only did they join Rhode's army, but they also received various titles such as captains or instructors.

With the prestigious titles, statuses, and wealth, the other mercenaries were naturally envious. They also wished to perform outstandingly to capture Rhode's attention and eventually become his henchmen. Moreover, many mercenaries had also joined the guild and hoped to develop themselves, which started Starlight in the orbit of a virtuous cycle. Within a few days, the strength of Rhode's private soldiers had grown to about 3,000 men. Thereafter, Orchid Heart had also temporarily stopped the recruitment works in order to keep the stability. But even so, there was still an impact to the Fortress with that sudden increase of soldiers, which led to more burden on another person: Lapis.

Even though the alchemy department under Lapis had become much more stable with an increase of members, they had to focus their energy in concocting more alchemical potions and equipment with the drastic increase in private soldiers, temporarily suspending the research. Lapis had some grumbles over it, but she understood that Rhode lacked the resources to support her creations. After all, they required a lot of materials and even though Rhode had extorted a whole lot of materials from the Alchemist Association, those were only sufficient for creating equipment. Perhaps even double that amount of materials wouldn't be enough to research and develop newer products.

Although Lapis's production speed had become much quicker with the help of Marlene's schoolmates, there was still a limit, after all. In this aspect, Rhode took reference from the in-game players with the Production Class and gave Lapis a suggestion. In the game, there were no lack of Alchemist players. Even though they concurrently searched for ingredients once in awhile, it was too demanding for them to also be responsible for engraving to producing a series of arts and crafts. Not only would they need to spend a lot of time, but they also had low efficiency. Therefore, the Alchemist players often purchased required ingredients and semi-manufactured goods in order to assemble and sell them instead.

Due to this, Rhode proposed a reform plan for Lapis' alchemy department. In the past, he didn't suggest it as Lapis was the only Alchemist around. But now, she had helpers who were more or less proficient in alchemy. He would be dividing her helpers into groups. The ones weaker in alchemy would be responsible in gathering magic herbs, creating vessels, or perhaps working on carving and casting shells. On the other hand, Lapis could gather some blacksmiths, herbalists, and craftsmen to complete the design plans, before handing them to Marlene's schoolmates for supervision. The schoolmates would assemble after the production process and Lapis could also use the chance to select some talents and groom them into being disciples who could speed up the production of alchemical equipment.

Lapis objected to Rhode's suggestion from the start. In fact, it wasn't only her, but Marlene and the others also didn't understand it either. Got to say, the people in this age were rather conservative in their thoughts. They universally believed that one couldn't engage in the production of alchemy products without sufficient knowledge because one didn't understand the essence of the items at all. What if there was a problem during the production?

However, Rhode wasn't mindful of their objections as he saw it as the responsibility of the creator. In fact, it wouldn't affect one's ability in producing tires even if one couldn't operate a vehicle. Of course, it would be another issue if one decided to design new tires.

Got to say, the strength of tradition was formidable.

Even though Rhode had tried his best to convince Lapis and Marlene, they were still dubious of his suggestion. Although they admitted that Rhode's plan was workable to a certain extent, they still thought that it was impossible to produce a list of equipment with magical powers that required alchemy knowledge. Rhode couldn't do anything about it. No matter what, he was just a player and not a game designer. Besides, in the game, even though the Alchemist players' semi-manufactured goods were also made by other players in the Production Class, that didn't require them to create it just like in reality, after all. Instead, the players simply needed to place all the materials before him and activate his skill would do. This way, even though there was a certain failure rate, it would become a 'qualified product' that met the system specifications if it succeeded. But that was in the game, and there might perhaps be some differences in this world...

In the end, both sides took a step back. Lapis and Marlene agreed to hand the less important duties for them to fulfill and leave the important equipment embedding and engraving works to themselves. Of course, if everything worked out, they would consider taking Rhode's suggestion further... After all, Lapis was an Alchemist Master in terms of magical technology while Marlene's Senia Family was a well-known magical family. Both of them were experts in this aspect and he had done what he could. He could only slowly observe the effects in the future.

Among all these issues, Christie was the one who left Rhode the most gratified. She had completely become Lapis' important assistant. Not only were the drawings and drafts that she had come out with beautiful and elegant, but they were also practical, where even Lapis, whose entire head was filled with the alchemical knowledge of the Behermes, couldn't help but praise.

But Marlene had expressed some concerns to Rhode privately. According to her observations, not only were the magic circuits designed by Christie pleasing to the eye, but they also appeared to be designed according to the laws of some alchemical techniques. It was almost impossible for one without rich knowledge and experience in alchemy to design it. But Christie... She didn't seem to know any alchemy at all. Besides, she wouldn't have reached such heights even if she started learning since she was born. Moreover, Marlene and Rhode knew clearly what sort of life Christie had been leading before. Under such circumstances, how was it possible for her to learn the designs for magical technology? Furthermore, Marlene was perturbed when Christie didn't understand what she was asking about the designs. Christie merely thought that the design looked pretty and that was all. It would be a coincidence for a blind cat to catch a dead mouse once or twice. But, it had always been the case for Christie. Wasn't that strange enough?

Rhode didn't provide any explanation to the situation and he comforted Marlene to not worry too much. In fact, even though he didn't know why Christie could understand these, he vaguely had an answer in his mind. Everything Christie had done subconsciously perhaps had something to do with the 'other Christie' from his dreams. Even though he had met the 'other Christie' twice, she had always given him a lot of help. She aided him in repairing Madaras and Gracier before showing him the location of the two Holy Sword Cards. That 'Christie' surely wasn't an ordinary character. Not only that, but what also left Rhode baffled was that he seemed to have seen that scenery in his dream somewhere before... But he just couldn't recall it.

There wasn't any regular pattern for the appearance of the 'other Christie'. Although Christie often slept with Rhode, the 'other Christie' had only appeared in his dreams twice.

Recently, Rhode didn't allow Christie to spend the night with him anymore. The reason was simple. He was entangled by Anne.

Ever since the start of her estrus, Anne had been fulfilling her sexual desires. She looked for him practically every night, which left him intolerable. Even though Marlene and Lize also had such behaviors after giving their first to him, they had the reservation of young ladies, after all, and would at most provide some subtle hints. However, Anne was completely different. As long as no one was around and no matter if it was day or night, Anne would always take the initiative. On the other hand, Rhode responded without the slightest hesitation to the meat that was delivered to his door. Not only that, but Anne would also look for Rhode every night, which he had no choice but to stop Christie from sleeping in his room at night, just in case she saw something unsuitable for children.

Fortunately, Rhode's constitution was beyond Human values. If not, he would've long been dried out by Anne. But, even so, sometimes he felt as though the lower part of his body had become numb without any perception... He only hoped for Anne's estrus to end quickly. If not, he would need to sneakily and shamefully get Lapis to concoct a few potions to cure Anne.

Of course, it was just an anecdote for his leisure time. Apart from mixing with Anne all day, he naturally had other important matters.

Ever since the launch of the Skynet Plan, first-hand, useful information from various regions of the Light Mainland had been flowing in constantly. Even though Rhode could be said to have experienced everything that happened in this continent as a top-rated player who had transmigrated to this world, he wasn't a history record, after all. He could remember large-scale and personal history, but he had no idea on the specific day and time of happenings that were rumored. And now, according to the 'Skynet', he could thereby determine the clues and use his memories to form a picture as to what was about to happen.

He was most concerned about the news regarding the Country of Light.

After the Dragon Soul Ceremony, he slipped back to the Munn Kingdom while leaving things in a mess. The Light Parliament had sunk into chaos. The news of the Parliament Chairman half-kneeling and kissing Lydia's hand and the devastating loss of the Magician Knights had spread throughout the entire Country of Light. In an instant, the Light Parliament got caught in the heart of the struggle with many people bawling out on them for humiliating the ancestors who had given their all for the sake of freedom and beliefs. Some groups of people had even named that day as a 'national humiliation day' and thought that the Light Parliament had fallen from grace and betrayed their freedom and righteous beliefs. The lower chamber of legislative body represented the people in proposing a serious protest to the Light Parliament. Not only that, but the people also organized demonstrations before the Light Parliament and resisted their incapability. Moreover, judging from the situations of the territories around the Country of Light, most of them who supported the Light Parliament remained silent and kept a distance away from the Light Parliament. It seemed that they were also worried that the Light Parliament wouldn't stabilize the situation.

On the other hand, Lilian had taken actions.

It could be seen that she was an idealist. She dispatched men to Dalkest to speak to the people there and made a series of decisions to transform the place in order to ensure the people there could live ordinary lives and hold jobs. But these solutions definitely weren't thought of by Lilian. The people of Casabianca had a different appraisal on this decision. They had huge opinions about Dalkest and it would be for the best that Lilian was willing to resolve this problem. But on the other hand, many of them were worried that this was the first step of the Light Dragon in recapturing her sovereignty.

The Light Parliament's prestige was swaying. The Light Dragon Soul had gotten involved in the internal affairs of the country. The country was in a complete mess. The people were feeling a mix of emotions which included worry, anger, and restlessness. According to the intelligence, people from other cities apart from Casabianca were also putting up demonstrations and protesting the Light Parliament. Furthermore, the Light Parliament didn't receive the funding from the Munn Kingdom this year. Even though Lilian used the funds for internal affairs, she definitely wouldn't use them to fill the Light Parliament's financial deficit. It was imaginable of the crisis if the Light Parliament failed to make ends meet by next year.

Rhode knew that the five largest financial groups definitely wouldn't take actions immediately. If they truly wished to manipulate the Light Parliament, they had to allow the financial holes to expose themselves and when the Light Parliament were incapable of resolving the problems, they would emerge with the identity of the savior.

Why were heroes always popular and well-liked? That was because they often emerged during the worst scenarios. When the Demon ravaged the surface. When the ruler oppressed its people tyrannically. When blood flowed to form a river. When the world was suffering from war and deaths. - Only under such circumstances where a hero stepped out and defeated the bad guy was respected. How many people would respect the hero if the hero immediately slaughtered the Demon King who had just emerged to the surface and burst into laughter, saying, "Hahaha. I'm going to destroy this world!"? No one.

The Light Parliament also knew that this was the five largest financial groups' scheme. But Rhode knew that they wouldn't let the five largest financial groups take advantage of this situation. The reasons why the Light Parliament dared to snatch the authority from the Light Dragon Soul was because of themselves. Even though the five largest financial groups often applied pressure on them, the Light Parliament held political rights, after all. If the Light Parliament were to fall into their tricks and become their puppets, they might as well rely on the Light Dragon Soul, since the Light Dragon Soul was still one of the Creator Dragon Soul-much greater than a group of Humans.

Rhode was sure that things wouldn't end so easily. Besides, the more miserable the Light Parliament was as stated in the intelligence report, the more Rhode couldn't force out a smile. Even though he couldn't wait for the Light Parliament to perish, he had a premonition as though one was standing on the plain and watching thick, dark clouds rolling over and covering the entire sky. It was apparent that a huge storm was brewing without the need of a weather report.

Indeed, things were slowly changing.

The Light Parliament had kept quiet all these while. However, another problem was slowly growing and that was regarding the rumors of the Country of Darkness. The rumors of the Country of Darkness launching ambushes on the Country of Light's border guards were spreading within the Country of Light and its people were slowly shifting their attention away from the Light Parliament's embarrassing situation and discussing about this issue.

Everyone was aware that the Country of Darkness was a nation dominated by Undead Creatures and some Humans had tried all sorts of ways to cross the border and arrive at nations dominated by Humans like the Country of Light or the Munn Kingdom. The defectors had various reasons. Some did it for their research on undead spells and some were spies, or for whatever reasons. Of course, the Country of Darkness definitely wouldn't admit that they were the ones at fault. The Munn Kingdom and the Country of Light didn't count on them admitting that either. It was just like how the Eastern Plains had always been the front line of a war between the Munn Kingdom and the Country of Darkness, where it was common for Humans and Undead Creatures to get into conflicts.

But now, the rumors of Country of Darkness' ambushes and that they were about to invade the Country of Light were spreading. The people weren't too aware of such rumors as they were mostly stopped at the borders. But now, there was an obvious problem with the speed of spread for these rumors. It would still be unavoidable if only a few regions were spreading the rumors as there were bound to be loopholes. However, the situation was completely different if the entire Country of Light was spreading them.

These rumors had left the Country of Light's people in a state of unrest. Moreover, there was also a rumor that mentioned that the Light Parliament had lost every scrap of reputation, the Light Dragon Soul tried to snatch its authority back, and the Country of Darkness had the intentions of attacking the Country of Light!

Got to say, such opinions were popular among the people and based on the intelligence report, many of the Country of Light's people agreed with this view too.

At this moment, the Light Parliament who had been maintaining silence had some activities.

They formally protested to the Country of Darkness through diplomatic channels, requesting them to hand over the murderers who killed their border guards!

The Country of Darkness definitely wouldn't regard their words highly. They expressed that it was merely an accident and there was no evidence which proved that it was the Country of Darkness' regular army that attacked the guards. They believed that it was the doing of some fleeing Undead Creatures, sent their condolences for the mishap of the guards, and announced that they would investigate the case. But the Country of Light actually asked for them to hand out the murderers... That was impossible because the murderers didn't exist, so how were they able to hand them over?

The Light Parliament was oddly stubborn on this matter. They provided a massive number of evidence and witnesses to prove that it was Country of Darkness' regular army that had attacked and once again issued unyielding arguments that requested for the Country of Darkness to provide an explanation.

In the end, Country of Darkness was no longer interested in playing games with the Light Parliament. They expressed that there must have been some misunderstandings in the situation and they could communicate with the Light Dragon Soul... It went to show that the Country of Darkness knew the situation happening in the Country of Light inside out and they wouldn't mind messing with the Light Parliament.

But the situation took a turn thereafter.

The Light Parliament was still unwilling to forgive the Country of Darkness. They definitely wouldn't allow Country of Darkness to communicate with the Light Dragon Soul. As a result, the Light Parliament once again requested for Country of Darkness apologize and compensate them for their losses. But this time, the Light Parliament weren't only speaking. They had mobilized several of their troops to the rumored border region where their guards were ambushed and announced to the public that this was the military exercise of the new year. However, everyone knew what they were up to.

Rhode understood from the intelligence that war was inevitable.